There are many reasons why I love using cavaletti throughout the year, but the main one is that they help you practice seeing your stride without taxing your horse’s legs. Not everyone has the option of jumping several horses a week, so it can be hard to find that balance between being able to practice your jumping enough and not over-jumping your horse.
While on paper you may think that this exercise is overly simple, I find that it is the perfect thing to work on during the winter months to help prepare for the upcoming show season. I’m a big believer in training my horses – and students – in a systematic manner. And this is a great exercise to set up on your own and practice in between lessons. Even better, get a group of friends together and make a game of it.
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!