[Originally posted in Issue No. 7, Horse Health, check out our post “Crossing the Disciplines” for more on how cross-training is essential to a good training regime]
Cavaletti and jump exercises can be a great way to keep your horse focused and fit in any season. You don’t need to ride hunters or be a jumper to benefit from these exercises, as they build skills transferable to all disciplines.
There are a wide range of exercises you can try that offer varying degrees of difficulty, and work on different skills sets. You can be almost endlessly creative with your setups, depending on the equipment and space you have available. Don’t despair if you only have one or two trot poles, or only one cavaletti, there is still a range of activities you can undertake with your horse under saddle and in hand.
One Fence Exercises
Let’s start with the basics. If you haven’t done cavaletti exercises before, or are working with a young or green horse, start with one fence and build up as you go.
Try setting up two trot poles on the ground (make sure there are no obstructions in your path) about 3 feet apart (you may have to adjust based on your horse’s striding). Start by walking your horse over them in hand, then try trotting him over . It may seem like a simple exercise, but even walking over a few trot poles will engage your horse’s mind and encourage him to articulate his joints and use his muscles.
To add complexity to the exercise, why not raise one end of each pole and walk him over them again. This will force him to have to lift and engage those muscles even more.
If you have the space you can also incorporate one fence or low rail into a figure eight pattern. This is a great exercise to work on communication while in hand, and bend and suppleness while mounted. Perform your figure eight as if it were two 20 metre circles (or 8 – 10 metres if you have less space), going over the rail each time you transition to the second circle in the eight pattern.
Two Fence Exercises
If you have a bit more space to play with, and access to more poles or cavalettis why not try some of these exercises.
Put two poles on the ground (approximately 5 ft. apart) for a simple but effective trot pole exercise in hand or mounted. For an added challenge, raise one of each end of the poles for a raised trot pole exercise, or elevate them and create to small cross rails to really make your horse work to pick up his feet and pay attention to the task at hand.
For a more challenging version of this exercise while mounted, place two poles in a line (approximately 9 ft. apart) and canter over them. This short one stride exercise is great for helping your horse develop a better round canter stride for jumping, and will help work on spacing and pacing (as you don’t have much room to play with!). Up the complexity of the exercise by raising the level of the poles to a small cross rail, or use a cavaletti in place of the ground poles.
The Half Circle:
Place two ground poles perpendicular to each other, on what would be two of the quarter points of a 20 metre circle. Trotting and cantering your horse over these poles will help work on his balance and bending, and force him to pay attention to your aids and stay supple on the circle. As always, raise the height of the ground poles to small fences for more of a challenge.
Finding yourself short on equipment?
If your barn isn’t equipped with a large number of traditional standards and trot poles, never fear, there are many affordable and do it yourself options that will work just as well.
Plastic buckets or hay bales work as great standards for small cavalettis, cross rails, and raised trot poles, and you can pick up some PVC piping or landscaping poles from the hardware store to serve as your jump poles.