Jim Wofford: Gymnastic Exercise

Improve your horse’s rhythm, balance and independence over a bounce gymnastic.

As I’ve said many times, gymnastic jumping is the best tool available to improve your horse’s performance and your position. Here is one of my favorite gymnastic exercises.

WHAT: A “bounce” gymnastic where your horse will land over one element and then jump another obstacle without taking a stride between them. 


• To improve your horse’s agility, self-carriage and ability to jump multiple efforts without losing his rhythm, balance and regularity of stride.

• To allow you to practice and strengthen your two-point.


• Bounces are a good agility exercise. Your horse will learn to keep his shoulder in front of him as he jumps and will improve his technique.

• Bounces are an excellent exercise to practice and strengthen your two-point: There is not enough time for you to sit down before he jumps again. 

• Bounces make you aware of the opening and closing of your elbow, which is the foundation of learning the correct following function of your hands.


• Approach the gymnastic at a calm, regular, balanced pace with a long or possibly even loose contact to maintain or awaken your horse’s initiative.

• Be an intelligent passenger. Once your horse gets to the obstacle, he must arrange his footwork and propel his body over the fence. Your job is to stay out of his way. 

• Look at the pole first and then keep your eye on the first obstacle in the sequence until it goes out of sight between your horse’s ears. Repeat the same process for each obstacle. This will help you maintain a straight line through the gymnastic exercises and develop your timing. 

• Do not lean forward. When your horse leaves the ground to jump, have the sensation that he has brought his withers up toward your chest. 

• When you add another element to the gymnastic, approach toward the new part first so that your horse immediately notices that you have changed his environment. 

• If you run into difficulties, lower the obstacle or remove the last obstacle and lower the others until you get your horse going forward again. 


1. Start with one rail on the ground between the standards at A (see diagram above) and place a ground pole 9 feet from the rail on the ground between the standards. This placing rail helps mark your horse’s takeoff point correctly.

2. After trotting back and forth over the two poles, set A at 2 feet. Jump several times at the trot, approaching the placing rail, taking two steps after the placing rail and jumping the obstacle at A.

3. Next reverse and work in the opposite direction. Approach the obstacle through the line of open standards toward a 2-foot vertical with a placing rail on the ground 9 feet behind the obstacle. Your horse will approach at the trot, jump the vertical, land at the canter and step over the 9-foot placing pole. Once you and your horse are confident over this part of the gymnastic in either direction …

4. place a second obstacle the same size as A in the standards at B. Trot back and forth several times both from the placing rail to the bounce and back from the bounce to the placing rail. 

We introduced our green demo horse, Royal Alyance (“Aly,” shown here with Tim Bourke), to one new element of this bounce gymnastic at a time. Now Tim is jumping him through the entire exercise. Although Aly is not experienced, he has the priceless gift of willingness to go wherever his rider points him. He is jumping the first double-bounce with no hesitation. His exuberance continues as he jumps well over the single vertical at D, and his confidence is unshaken as he approaches the second double-bounce. It is interesting to see that he is learning to engage his hindquarters more as he prepares to jump E, F and G (not pictured). Over time, gymnastic work will change the shape Aly takes with his forelegs. Not bad for a 5-year-old with little jumping experience, huh? | © Stacey Nedrow-Wigmore

5. Once your horse is calm and balanced, add a rail at C. Repeat in both directions several times.

6. Add a rail at D, set about 2 feet high. Approaching at the trot toward the placing pole before A, your horse will now double-bounce A to B and B to C, take one stride at the canter and jump D.

7. When your horse jumps from A to D well and trots calmly from D back to A, build E, F and G at the same dimensions and distances. You should build this part of the gymnastic all at once to cut down on the total number of repetitions you do with your horse. Because the obstacles at E, F and G are new to your horse, approach toward G first. 

As you ride the entire gymanstic line, your horse will approach the first placing pole at the trot, jump the first obstacle, bounce, bounce again, land, take one stride in the 20-foot distance, jump the vertical, take a stride in the next 20-foot distance, bounce, bounce again, and canter out over the last 9-foot rail on the ground. 

Concentrate on maintaining your position throughout the exercise so that your horse’s back can move freely underneath you. Remain poised in two-point position during the bounce efforts and return to a light three-point position during the one-stride parts of the gymnastic.

Keep a light, supple contact with your horse’s mouth by relaxing your elbow. This gymnastic causes your horse’s head and neck to move back and forth in a pronounced fashion. Relaxing your elbows will help you learn how to maintain a consistent contact throughout the jumping effort. Once your horse is comfortable, 
approach from either direction.

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of Practical Horseman.

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