This super exercise from Tik Maynard works on adjustability and rideability. The combination of groundwork and actual riding makes it great for the off-season, as well as something fun to do with your barnmates.
2 ground poles and 2 cones
This can be set up most anywhere, even outside in a nearby field. The 60-foot distance is a suggestion and can be adjusted to fit your space.
As riders, we need to know what stride length our horse is on at any given time. This is important so when we’re at a show we’re able to adjust to any stride length the course designer is asking for. Being able to practice smoothly and quickly changing stride length throughout this exercise will help you at shows because your horse will be more adjustable and more rideable. And as a rider you will have the confidence to know that your horse is capable of any adjustability question you may face.
There are an infinite number of ways to make this exercise easier or harder. I encourage you to challenge yourself, but never be afraid to back up a step if needed.
As you work through the exercise keep the following three priorities in mind:
- Is your horse safe at the end?
- Are you safe at the end?
- Is your horse more relaxed at the end than at the beginning? Your horse needs a certain level of relaxation in order to learn.
This exercise can be built up in 15 progressive steps:
- Lead your horse over the poles. You should be able to do this on a “loose rein,” meaning he should calmly walk next to you over the ground poles a few times.
- Walk over the poles mounted on a long rein. Again, your horse should be able to walk calmly over the poles. No stress. Even from the beginning, you want to make sure you’re going over the center of each pole, which is why there are cones in the center to help test your straightness.
- Walk 1, Trot 2: Regardless of the level of connection you have in the bridle—which should coincide with your level of training—you should simply pick up a quiet trot after walking over the first pole.
- Trot 1, Walk 2: This is where some people can get caught up. Sixty feet is a long time to make a good downward transition, so don’t rush it.
- Trot both poles: Again, your goal is to keep a quiet, consistent rhythm throughout.
- Trot 1, Canter 2: This is a great way to practice your upward canter transitions by asking for the transition over the first pole. Or do the transition halfway between the two poles.
- Canter 1, Trot 2: Just like your trot-to-walk transitions, remember you have plenty of time to make a transition.
- Canter both poles: Whether you’re in a half-seat or full-seat, your only goal here is to confidently canter over both poles. If you have trouble keeping your canter lead over both poles, think about going over the poles in an oval shape, rather than a square.
- Canter both poles and count your strides. This is where it comes in handy to do this exercise with friends as you can help each other count strides.
- Consistently get five strides: Challenge yourself to get five even, 10-foot strides between the two poles. The extra 10 feet is for takeoff and landing.
- Alternate between five and six strides, four times in a row. The key to being able to alternate between two stride lengths is planning. You will quickly learn that you cannot solely rely on your reins to make these adjustments. Use your seat and leg to help adjust your stride, and think about changing the balance before you change the speed.
- Get the following pattern: five, six, seven, six, five strides. The challenge here is to keep compressing your horse’s stride, then immediately lengthen it back up.
- Get the following pattern: four, five, six, seven, six, five, four strides. This is just a repeat of the previous exercise, but a slightly bigger challenge.
- Get the following pattern: four, seven, four, seven. While the previous two were gradual transitions between stride length, this is more of a challenge to immediately change from four to seven strides.
- Get creative! Try alternating directions each time with a flying change over the second pole. Add more strides or make them into jumps. Set this up outside and use terrain.
I cannot stress enough that if your horse is having any trouble, take a step back until he can do the previous step in a relaxed manner. I’m looking for the horse’s mouth to be closed, his tail to be quiet, and for him to be able to keep a rhythm.
If your horse is having trouble relaxing with you on his back, work him in hand over the poles until he is ready to try again with you mounted. If your horse is getting anxious when you try to get him on the bit, go back to riding on a relaxed rein. I don’t even begin to ask a horse to jump until he can walk, trot, and canter around—both in an arena and outside—on a relaxed rein.
Finally, spend some time watching your horse’s ears while you’re riding. They should be fairly relaxed and even flopping while you’re hacking and flatting. And when you start jumping, his eyes and ears should look to the jump. Your horse should briefly check in with his rider in the turn before the jump, then think ahead to the jump in front of him. Your challenge as a rider is to see if you can communicate with your horse without interfering with his job. And the best way to do this is practice, practice, practice over these ground poles.
About Tik Maynard
Tik Maynard is based in Citra, Florida, with his wife, fellow eventer Sinead Maynard, at their Copperline Farm. His business combines eventing and natural horsemanship, with students of every level and discipline. He is the author of the bestselling memoir In the Middle Are the Horsemen.
This excerpt from Grid Pro Quo by Margaret Rizzo McKelvy is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books (www.HorseandRiderBooks.com).