Everyone knows how important stretching, using different muscle groups as well as constantly working on increasing and maintaining flexibility is for humans. Not surprisingly it is equally if not more important for horses, regardless of the type of work that they will be required to do. Sport or jumping horses and those that are competitively ridden need to work on flexibility and muscle development just the same as pleasure horses that are used for the occasional weekend event or ride.
The great news is that working any type of horse through a gymnastics routine will increase the horse’s control, energy levels and flexibility. It will also help the rider focus on the horse’s position during the jump, as well as how to improve their own riding skills. Since the goal of the gymnastics program is to increase the horse’s balance, jump and landing as well as increase the self-carriage of the horse, injuries and stress on the horse will decrease through the use of gymnastics as a core part of training.
All horse gymnastic programs start with basic, simple jumps and trots between jumps, ideal for horses that are unfamiliar with the routine. Initially poles are used in place of jumps, allowing the horse and rider to trot through, focusing on having the horse develop control and flexibility in approaching the poles and then later the jumps. Poles are then combined with low jumps, allowing the horse both a warm up as well as a prelude to the actual gymnastics program. This trot jump, which is often done as an isolated exercise, helps cue the horse and also helps the rider to focus on correct positioning, following the horse and using leg control to help the horse with carriage, balance and landing.
The benefit of using a gymnastic type approach to training is that the positioning of the jumps and poles is strategic. They are placed so that the horse is cued to transition weight to make the jump, plus it also encourages the horse to continuously be thinking about what he or she is doing. Through these controlled but low level jump exercises the horse and rider develop a unified sense of balance and control, with the horse also developing an increased flexibility and response to the rider.