Ready to spice things up this winter training season? Do you want to use being stuck in the arena as an opportunity to fine tune your riding? In this series, we are revisiting some of our favorite Grid Pro Quo articles from Eventing USA to help you use the off-season to your advantage and keep you and your horse in tip-top shape for when it's time to get back out there. Click here to check out other past Grid Pro Quo exercises!
While this jumping exercise doesn’t involve any actual jumps, I find that it is the perfect exercise to help my students and horses ride their courses better. I often find that once you start jumping a course, your horse can get on a roll and become a bit flat, which leads to their form dissipating a little bit. This exercise is all about rideability and adjustability, which are two key ingredients to riding a clear and safe jumping course.
The key to this exercise is not the cavaletti themselves, but being able to keep your horse on the aides and straight through the chute of the jump poles on the ground. The short distance of 18 feet between the cavaletti really requires a horse to sit down and use their hind end, and it requires the rider to really have their horse on the aides with a clear connection between the inside leg to outside rein. As riders and horses progress through the levels, the challenge is to land after the last cavaletti and leg yield to either side before reaching the chute.
I think the best thing about this exercise is that you can leave it up in your arena or jump field and work it into your ride several times a week. I will sometimes flat a horse in a jump saddle and finish the session by going through this exercise a few times. The nice part about using cavaletti for this exercise is that it doesn’t put a lot of wear and tear on the horse, so you can really spend the time trying to perfect the exercise without worrying about pounding your horse’s legs.
Depending on your level of riding, there are several ways in which you can start this exercise. For those at the Beginner Novice through Training level, I actually recommend extending the distance to 21 feet, and starting off with the cavaletti on their lowest height. For Preliminary-level and above combinations, the 18-foot distance is perfectly appropriate. Depending on your horse and your own experience level, you can either start with the cavaletti at their lowest height, or start with them set up to the full height – which should be around 18 inches. The rails on the ground should be placed between four and six strides away from the cavalettis, depending on the level of the horse and rider. I would expect an upper-level horse to be able to complete their leg yield within four strides, but am okay with it taking six strides for the lower level pairs.
For the lower level rider, the only goal should be to quietly canter through the exercise in balance with the horse in self-carriage. Horses are creatures of habit, so I try to repeat an exercise until they find it easy and natural. For the rider, I find that really forcing someone to be really picky about the details while schooling will only pay off in spades at a horse show. Having the rails here forces the rider to be accurate, and gives them something to aim for and work around. Then being able to do this exercise multiple times, and doing it as perfectly as possible, will only give the rider confidence when they are faced with a similar situation at a horse show.
While I will extend the distance between the cavaletti, and then the cavaletti and the chute, I do still want riders at the Beginner Novice, Novice, and Training level to really challenge themselves by asking their horse to canter through the cavaletti and then leg yield away from the inside leg – so if you are cantering on the right lead, you will want to leg yield away from your right leg to the left – before the chute and then circling back to come through the chute in the opposite direction and over the cavaletti again. For a slightly bigger challenge, you can leg yield away from the outside leg – so if you are cantering on the right lead, you will want to leg yield away from your left leg to the right – before the chute, and then do a simple change of lead on the straight line before circling back to come through the chute and continuing on with your exercise.
When teaching, I always find it interesting to see what a rider thinks they’re doing, versus what they are actually doing. It is not uncommon for a horse to run through the turns leaning on their inside shoulder. Without even realizing it, many riders will make this problem worse by relying on their inside rein to make the turn, without supporting the horse with their leg aides. This is where the rails on the ground come in handy, because it makes it obvious that you need to use more leg to make the leg yield happen. I find that this exercise really breaks things down, so that riders can learn to really put their leg on more in a low-stress environment.
When I’m schooling this exercise on my own horses, I am looking for a few specific things as I work through the cavaletti. For a horse that canters into the exercise, but then fumbles through the cavaletti, I will break the exercise down a little bit. For me, everything I do with horses is about progression. So for a horse that is struggling a bit, I start by cantering over the end cavalettis on their own a few times. I will often then take out one of the end cavaletti momentarily, and canter over two cavaletti before adding the third one back in and then canter down the line and continue on with the exercise.
On the other hand, I will sometimes have a horse that is a bit too bold and will try to rush through the cavaletti and even bounce through the distance. Again, I believe that repetition is the key to success, so I will simply extend the distance out to 21 feet to make it a very clear one stride. And once they understand, I will close in the distance gradually until I am back to the 18-foot distance.
Occasionally, I will have a horse that is insistent on rushing, and while some might think that you need to complicate the exercise to get their attention, instead I like to break the exercise down to its basics in order to make it very clear to the horse what I am expecting. Depending on the horse, I will either take away a few of the cavaletti or I will simply start by trotting into the exercise, letting them land and canter away, but then come back to the trot before turning to come back through the chute. I will repeat this as many time as necessary, until the exercise starts to have a calming effect on them, instead of revving them up.
About Ryan Wood
An Australian native, Ryan Wood moved to the United States in 2008 and currently bases his Woodstock Eventing out of Cochranville, Pennsylania. While still in Australia, Wood achieved top placings at numerous events including Adelaide CCI4*, Melbourne CCI3*, and Sydney CCI3*. In recent years, Wood has been successful at some of the U.S.’s biggest events including the Kentucky CCI4*, Fair Hill CCI3*, Jersey Fresh CCI3*, the Wellington Eventing Showcase, and many more. In 2016, Wood won both the CCI3* and CIC3* at Jaguar Land Rover Bromont International and was the Adequan USEA Gold Cup Champion and Reserve Champion. In addition to Wood’s passion for riding, he enjoys seeing others succeed through lesson, coaching, and clinics. He takes great pride in developing horses and being a part of their journey, knowing that each horse has something unique to teach us. Learn more at www.woodstockeventing.com.
This Grid Pro Quo first appeared in Volume 47, Issue 4 of Eventing USA.
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This week on the USEA Podcast, USEA Classic Series Task Force member Mary Fike comes on the show to talk about the USEA Classic Series and the work the Task Force has done over the last year. Marcia Kulak returns to the show to talk about fitness programs for long format events.