The Young and Future Event Horse article series is being provided through a partnership between Mythic Landing Enterprises, LLC., and the USEA.
Event horses must be quick-witted and ready for anything. Some are born with a natural cat-like ability to get themselves out of trouble, but fortunately for the rest, this can also be an acquired skill. Upper level eventer and active USEA Young Event Horse Competitor Earl McFall likes to introduce exercises that teach young horses where their feet are very early in their training. Once his youngsters understand moving forward, bending and steering off his outside aids, McFall introduces the following exercise.
This exercise consists of three poles or cavaletti on a circle. Whether you want to make it on a 60-meter or 20-meter circle is totally up to you and knowing what your horse can handle at this stage in their training. McFall explains that you want to set the poles or cavaletti in a fan so that the distance between the poles is four to five feet on the inside, nine feet in the middle and twelve feet or more on the outside.
McFall explains, “Start at the walk first and let them step over the poles each direction. If they step on a pole or fumble through the first time, don’t worry. I actually want that to happen so they start to realize they have to think about where they’re placing their feet. It’s better for that to happen now over poles than when they start jumping.”
Once your horse is confident going through the poles on the circle at the walk on the inside, middle and outside line, try it at the trot going through the middle of each pole first. Your goal is to keep your horse’s inside bend on your circle and then keep it through the poles. As your horse gains confidence, ask them for a longer stride by going through the outside line and then ask for a bit of a collected stride by going through the inside line. The next step would be to then try it at the canter. The same concept applies and if you find that your horse really fumbles through once, come back to the trot and re-balance before you try again.
McFall adds that this is a great exercise for the rider as well because it forces the rider to turn with their eyes, hips and outside leg so that your youngster doesn’t start to exit to the right side. Once the horse is ready to try it at the canter, the rider is able to really feel the stride of their horse.
McFall continues, “This exercise is great for riders working to develop their ‘eye’ and decision-making skills. At some point as a rider, you’re going to be dead wrong. Sometimes you want the horse to figure out the striding themselves but other times you want to make that decision for them, which you means you can either move-up or you can wait. Either decision is fine as long as you make one.”
There may be some training hurdles that come into play when you try this exercise for the first time. If your horse tries to run out to the right as they come around the turn, try to come in on more of a straight line. This can make it a little bit harder to control their pace, but it makes it easier to steer. Another common hurdle could be your horse trying to accelerate as they get closer to the exercise. If this starts to happen, have your horse canter right to the base of the poles and then bring them back to the trot. Remember that you can always simplify the exercise by walking through the poles until your horse understands that they have to bend and be adjustable.
Once your young horse begins jumping confidently, McFall suggests having this exercise set-up to incorporate into your coursework to encourage them to still remain adjustable even when their stride gets longer when they’re on course. As your horse progresses through the levels, you can return back to this exercise but instead, make them verticals. Your horse can never outgrow this exercise!
Earl McFall is a graduate “A” Pony Clubber and has competed successfully in the Grand Prix jumper ring and at the Advanced level of eventing. Based out of Dragonfire Farm in Wilton, California, McFall is a very active eventing competitor and instructor that has brought countless horses up through the levels successfully with an emphasis on the Future and Young Event Horse program. McFall prides himself on being a very methodical and thorough trainer that instills confidence in his horses and students to allow them to achieve their goals.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series that builds on this exercise. To learn more about Earl McFall and his program, please visit the Dragonfire Farm website here: http://dragonfiresporthorses.com/