Remember holding your breath watching a Warm Blood or Thoroughbred horse in full flight, stretching its every muscle and sinew to clear a high and wide fence. Remember marveling at the grace and flexibility of an Hanoveran Stallion executing dressage. Your horse too can do these and more. You just need to teach it a few gymnastic exercises.
Gymnastic exercises have been known to impart degrees of suppleness and flexibility in breeds of horses, hitherto not famed for these qualities. Gymnastic routines also improve jump position, centeredness, balance, strength especially in the horse’s backs, shoulders, and hindquarters, and feel. They are preferred by both basic and experienced riders to develop agility and coordination. Gymnastic exercises, by engaging a different set of muscles, are also proven to counter the crippling effects of overuse syndrome in horses, doing mostly dressage, trail riding, and reining work in shows.
A gymnastic jumping exercise is anything that is not akin to a typical course. You may however, insert two or more gymnastic exercises into a “mini-course.” These exercises combine a series of ground poles and jumps. They are not more than two strides apart than that used in a conventional jump training schedule. They can be set up in varied ways with varying degrees of complexity: differing number of jumps, verticals, oxers, ground lines, and bounces.
When you are setting up gymnastic exercises, it is important that you keep in mind the stride distance between jumps. If you wish to create a normal jump line wherein you will just canter in and out, the average stride of the canter should be 12′. You have to also keep 4′ each for landing and taking off. This is the basic measurement, and you may adjust according to your horse’s stride.
A favorite gymnastic exercise of many show jumping maestros is a ground line, a cross rail, a stride to a vertical, and finishing off with a bounce. You may start off with a cross rail and trot in and canter out, which is a conventional starting for any gymnastic exercise. Then you can add a vertical stride, then some height to the cross rail, and then add a third jump; all of course, depending upon the comfort level of your horse.
Cavaletti are integral to many a show jumping gymnastic routine. Bert de Nemethy, the equestrian legend, popularized the classic cavaletti. De Nemethy used to train jumpers on the flat and over fences. He then thought of introducing some variety and novelty in the routine and brought in low rails attached to X-shaped wooden planks at each end.
Whatever exercise you are designing, remember to build it up one obstacle at a time, so that your horse is comfortable and has time to adjust to the varieties in the routine.
Gymnastic exercises are a fun way to challenge the abilities of your horse. All horses are not born physically and athletically equal. But with gymnastic exercises, you can have your horse match and also challenge the quickness and strength of a stronger and more coordinated counterpart.