Cavallettis or raised poles have many benefits. It’s a good way to improve mental and physical agility and will help your horse find his own balance.
Trotting and cantering over poles raised just off the ground will activate the hind leg. It’s important to arrive at the poles straight and in a balanced and active gait. The quality and rhythm of the movement towards and away from the poles will see an improvement in your horse’s way of going.
Cavalletti exercises are a great alternative to jumping if you are tight for space. Here are two exercises to play with where the poles are arranged in a fan.
When setting up, based on the average horse, if you are trotting through the middle, walk one adult human stride from one pole to the next. On the inside, that’s a smaller stride and on the outside line it’s wider, so a stride and a half.
If you are cantering through the middle, it’s three human strides from one pole to the next. On the inside line, it’s two and a half strides and on the outside edge it’s three and a half strides.
Poles on a Circle
Set three, four or five raised poles in a fan pattern on a 20-metre circle.
You can trot on an inside track through the poles to encourage your horse to shorten his stride, or on an outer track to develop lengthening in the trot. Maintain a light, steady contact from your legs and seat through the reins to the horse’s mouth and you should feel the horse using his back.
Evaluating your horse’s rhythm, straightness, and attitude toward the obstacle can help you establish or modify your goals for the workout session ahead. For example, if your horse is behind the leg, you may want to go back to working on transitions to sharpen him up to your aids. Likewise, if he is not straight on the approach to the fence, practise some lateral work.
Remember you are working on the principles of straightness, balance and rhythm. The goals are the same regardless of discipline, riding level or type of horse.
Set up your raised poles at either end of a figure of eight. In working trot, just before the cavalletti move your hands slightly forward, riding exactly over the centre. Change the rein and do the same. The aim is to work the horse evenly on both sides to work on lateral bend and suppleness through the ribs. After working on the circle ride forward on the long sides of the arena to re-establish freedom of movement.
Riding forward helps overcome any resistance. Ride over your cavalletti again and move to the outside so the horse has to stretch more, making his steps bigger. This means the inside hind foot must push off the ground with more energy and at the same time take more weight. Be careful you are building muscle and not straining muscles so only repeat this exercise a few times, once at a time on each rein.
It’s important to finish on a good note and make sure your horse has a good stretch at the end.