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Tue, 2017-03-07 08:29

Testing Obedience and Accuracy in Young Horses with Gabby Dickerson

Gabby Dickerson and Luck of the Draw at the 2016 East Coast USEA Young Event Horse Championships. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

The Young and Future Event Horse article series is being provided through a partnership between Mythic Landing Enterprises, LLC., and the USEA. Read Part 1 of Gabby Dickerson's interview here.

Gabby Dickerson started her riding career on the Outer Banks of North Carolina at a local pony club and lesson barn. By age 12, Dickerson was ready to turn her passion into a career and decided to make the move to Charlottesville, Va. to work for Olympian Kim Severson. During her five years working and training with Severson, Dickerson was able to learn the ins-and-outs of riding and managing a top sport horse barn. Dickerson’s experiences allowed her to bring multiple young horses through the levels where she’s experienced various achievements as a young rider especially through the Young Event Horse Program.

When it’s time to start testing your young horse’s obedience and accuracy, Dickerson loves a particular exercise that challenges them without over facing them. For the set up you will need to place four cavaletti on opposite sides of a 30-meter circle. On one side, set them as trot poles with about 5 and half feet middle to middle and make sure they are on the low setting. On the opposite side, set them as canter poles set above the ground, raised higher than your trot poles. Keep 3 meters or 10 feet in between each cavaletti on the outside track and 2 meters or 6 and a half feet in between each on the inside track. If you don’t have 8 cavalettis to use, you can make it work with just three or even two!

For your young horse giving this exercise a try for the first time, break it up. Start by just going through the trot poles and going around the canter poles. Once that becomes easy, give the canter poles a try and go around the trot poles. “Make sure to work your horse evenly in both directions and to give plenty of walk breaks and positive reinforcement when they do things right and just ignore the mistakes and let the repetition of the exercise do the teaching,” Dickerson explains.

Once you’ve gone through both sides of the poles and have taken a break, then put the two sets together. Have your horse trot through the trot poles, then pick up a canter and canter through the canter poles, back to the trot and back through the trot poles, and so on.

Dickerson notes, “Once you combine the two sets of cavalettis, pick a point to do your upward and downward transitions and stick to it. This is your time to work on your horse’s obedience and accuracy.” Marking your transition spot with a cone may be a helpful visual cue.

Keep in mind that this exercise is harder than it looks because everything comes up so quickly! Dickerson explains that your goal should be to simply keep your horse in the middle of the poles and in a forward rhythm. This exercise is great for building more hind end strength in your youngster as well as quick thinking and obedience.

Dickerson continues, “I’ll repeat this exercise with my horse until they go through happily a couple times a row without a major mistake. Be sure to not push your horse much longer than 15-20 minutes, as this exercise can be strenuous.”

For more information on Gabby and her program, please visit her website at:


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