While I love traditional trot grids, I like this “fives” exercise because of everything it does for the rider. First off, unlike traditional trot grids where the jumps slow the horses down, this grid teaches the rider how to create the half-halt themselves. Second, as some other professionals have mentioned in previous columns, it is always good to practice canter grids since all of your coursework in competition is done at the canter.
Like most professionals, I tend to do gridwork for most of the winter, before transitioning to coursework through the competition season. I find this exercise to be a good middle ground exercise as you have a little bit of a gymnastic combined with two easy bending exercises to set you up well for doing courses.
I’ve always wanted a formula for achieving a consistent, balanced jump. I knew that if I could figure out this formula, then when I approached a complex question at home or while showing, my horse would be given a fair chance to think on their feet to not only get through the question at hand, but go away a more confident horse.
In the early 2000s I took a group of students to watch the USEF Medal Finals at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show. In this particular year, judges George Morris and Kip Rosenthal also designed the course, which seemed deceptively simple on paper but proved to be quite challenging throughout the competition.
Like many eventers out there, I don’t have the biggest arena, and I’m often on my own when schooling my horses each day. From a practical standpoint, this exercise is great because you can fit it in most arenas, and it does not involve a lot of changing of fence heights, so there isn’t a lot of getting off and on during your ride. Of course it’s always beneficial to have someone on the ground as an extra set of eyes on your ride.
Throughout my career I have been blessed with horses that have been too smart for their own good. I developed these exercises over the years based on everything my horses were teaching me. I like to think of this series as very conventional exercises done in an unconventional way. It is less about the layout of everything, and more about how I think about how the horse is reacting to the exercises.
From the time we begin jumping, we are always working on perfecting the canter. Throughout my career I’ve been lucky to train with a variety of top professionals and each had their tried and true method for developing the right canter to jump a clear round. The best instructors have their own methods for helping their students recognize this “perfect” canter.
If you’ve been to any of my recent clinics, you are probably familiar with the centerline exercise featured here. It is a staple to my program for several reasons, the main one being that it is suitable for horses and riders of all levels. While the exercise is fairly basic on paper, it is quite effective in teaching the rider about two important concepts: inside leg to outside rein and using your leg before your hand.
Having spent almost two years in Europe working with some of the best young horse trainers in the world, I learned some great low-impact jumping exercises that I have adapted to utilize not only for my young horses but also for my Advanced partners. This Grid Pro Quo is all about practicing doing less with our hands, and more with our seat and legs!
Young horses in particular will often come up to a long line of poles and get a little backed off, so it’s important to tackle these exercises while training at home so that when you get to a horse show, both you and your horse are confident in your abilities to sort out the questions ahead of you.
One of the easiest ways to get a free education in the horse world is to go to your local horse show and just watch. We’re very lucky that in the sport of eventing you will often find Olympians competing side-by-side with adult amateurs and pony clubbers.