Before getting caught up in the rush to get ready for your next competition, it’s great to spend a little time working on footwork exercises for your horse and position exercises for yourself. Without the pressure of competing, it’s the perfect time to take a breath and really focus on the details.
Throughout my career, I’ve been lucky enough to both spectate and compete at some of the biggest events around the world. And whether you’re competing at one of these marquee events or at your local horse trials, the two biggest reasons that riders will have rails in show jumping are the same: lack of balance and rideability.
There are many reasons why this is one of my go-to exercises for my jump schools. While it seems simple on paper, it’s a great exercise for teaching rider responsibility while focusing on your position, while also teaching horse responsibility with a focus on footwork.
There are so many great exercises out there and so many great trainers to learn from, and oftentimes my exercises are hybrids of others that I have learned from either watching a lesson or taking a lesson myself. However simple, I have found this particular exercise to be extremely versatile and beneficial for horses and riders of all levels.
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.
I use this layout a lot for clinics. The exercises can be made easy enough for the D1 pony clubber and challenging enough for the most advanced horse and rider. All exercises work with poles on the ground or small jumps. I usually keep the height of the jumps under 3 feet, even for the upper level horse and rider.
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.