Gymnastics for horses, my top 10
These are my top 10 gymnastics for horses
Gymnastics for horses can be a wonderful tool to help improve your horse’s technique, agility, scope and balance. They will also improve their focus, and will help them figure out what they need to do when faced with an uncertain situation. The rider can’t do everything, sometimes the horse needs to figure things out for himself.
The rider is generally a passenger while the horse is travelling through jumping exercises. This gives you an excellent opportunity to focus on your body position and on what you as the rider can do to make your horse’s job easier.
The first few time you do your gymnastic, always make it really small, so if your horse makes a mistake, he can easily get himself out of trouble. And slowly increase the height. The aim is to boost their confidence, and not scare them.
Below are 10 excellent jumping exercises that would be really beneficial to the training of a show jumper, from advanced to relatively green horses. Remember it’s always a good idea to have your coach, or an experienced show jumper help you with the setup, and watch you go through the gymnastic to make sure it goes well. And most importantly, you can’t start too small. Always start off really small and slowly make the gymnastic bigger.
Gymnastic number 1
This is a nice entry level gymnastic, but can also be used for advanced horses. This gymnastic can be approached at a trot for less experienced horses, and at a canter for advanced horses. It starts off with 3 pops that are placed 3.2 meters apart. This will help establish some rhythm, as well as work on your horses balance and agility. The pops should not exceed the height of a cavaletti. This is followed by 1 short stride to a vertical, 6.5 meters from the last cavaletti, and two short strides to an oxer, 10 meters away from the vertical.
The reason the distance is relatively short is that your horse is more likely to get closer to the base of the jump, which encourages him to sit on his hocks and push up over the jump, which is a technique good show jumpers need to develop. It will also help him bascule over the jump, and improve the speed and technique of his front legs. Start nice and small, and as your horse gets comfortable, you can very slowly increase the height. I wouldn’t suggest going higher than 1.10 meters.
Gymnastic number 2
This little gymnastic/exercise is suitable for both young (inexperienced) and older (experienced) horses. It gets the horses to use themselves a bit more. It also really improves the technique of a horse that may have got a bit lazy. The horse really has to think about where his legs are, and about what he is doing. This makes them more agile and quick to respond to what they need to do.
The rider’s job is to place the horse correctly at the first element and keep him straight. The rest of the exercise is up to the horse. I wouldn’t suggest going much bigger than a meter on the middle element, and keep the first and last element at a cavaletti height. The distance between the 3 elements should be between 3 meters and 3.5 meters, depending on the height of the jump.
Gymnastic number 3
I wouldn’t recommend this gymnastic for a very novice horse, but it would be suitable for a horse with about a year’s jumping experience and upwards of that. The little cavaletti at the start will help you get a nice ride into the gymnastic, before the serious stuff starts. Place 3 low but wide oxers in a line, 1 stride apart. The first stride measures 5.5 meters, the second 6 meters and the third 6.4 meters.
The distance between the oxers is quite short, so your horse in more likely to get to the base of the jump. The wide oxers will then encourage your horse to jump up and round over the jump. Having the oxer wide will also encourage a better hind leg technique, and promote a higher more open back end. Good for increasing power and scope.
Gymnastic number 4
This is a very well known gymnastic, named after the person who first brought it into the main stream. It’s called the Winkler gymnastic, named after the famous German showjumper Hans Gunter Winkler. I know of a few show jumpers who attribute some of their success to this gymnastic. It is not ideally suited to inexperienced horses, but can be very beneficial to more advance horses.
This exercise is really good at working on your horse’s front end. It really gets them sharp and snappy in front. It also improves their balance and agility. This is the type of gymnastic you can set up and leave in your arena, and do it a few times a week. The distance for the bounces is 3.2 meters, and the one stride is 6.5 meters. You approach at the canter, and keep some contact through the exercise, don’t just give away all the contact on your horse mouth. Rather keep your arm nice and relaxed and let him take what he needs. You shouldn’t need to go any bigger than 1 meter on the oxer, and about 50 centimetres on the bounces.
Gymnastic number 5
This gymnastic is another version of gymnastic number 1. It too can be approached at a trot for less experienced horses, and at a canter for advanced horses. The 3 bounces that are placed 3.2 meters apart and will establish some rhythm, as well as work on your horses balance and agility.
The bounces should not exceed the height of a cavaletti. It’s then a short stride to a low but wide oxer (6.5 meters), and then two strides to quite a tall vertical (10 Meters). They will get deep to the low and wide oxer, and will have to push hard to jump it, and then rebalance themselves to jump the tall vertical, where they will need to sit on their hocks and curl over it. Again start low, and over time, slowly make it bigger. Never make the vertical much bigger than what your horse is graded to jump.
Gymnastic number 6
This is a gymnastic Rodrigo Pessoa has been known to use as preparation for a show. It’s not suited to novice horses, but can be very good for experienced show jumpers. The 3 trotting poles are placed 1.3 meters apart, and are really there just to set the tempo. Then the first bounce jump is placed 2.7 meters from the trotting poles and the second bounce jump is 3.4 meters from the first. Both bounce jumps are relatively tall crosses with a ground line. The vertical is then placed 6.3 meters from the second bounce jump, also with a ground line. Then 6.4 meters to the first oxer, and another 6,4 meters to the last oxer.
Once your horse is jumping confidently through the gymnastic you can raise the bounces a bit. Then after that you can raise the vertical a bit and then lastly the 2 oxers. Start nice and small, and raise the jumps only to the height your horse is comfortable with.
Gymnastic number 7
If kept really small this is a great gymnastic for young horses to learn to travel through a line, a combination or a gymnastic. This gymnastic can be quite testing when raised though, and I wouldn’t recommend ever going bigger than the height you are graded at. All the jumps are 6.4 meters (7 paces) apart and the ground pole exactly in the middle 3.2 meters (3.5 paces). The first jump is kept relatively small and they can be raised slightly through the line. The ground pole is there to encourage your horse to jump round over the jump, and keep a regular stride through the line.
The distance between the fences is quite short, so it will encourage your horse to sit on his haunches and jump up over the fence, as well as improve his technique in front. If your horse is coping really well with this, you can add V-poles to the jumps. This will ramp up the difficulty of the line quite substantially, so only recommended for experience show jumpers, however your horse will be in great shape once he is travelling through this gymnastic comfortably.
Gymnastic number 8
This is a nice little gymnastic to do as preparation for a show. It will help with your horse’s technique, agility and balance. You approach the gymnastic at a nice working canter. It starts off with quite a tall cross to ensure your horse jumps in the centre of the exercise, and will also work on his front technique and help him jump through his shoulder. The next part of the gymnastic is a bounce (three meters apart) 6.4 meters from the cross.
This will help with your horses balance and agility, and also act as a bit of a speed bump for horses that tend to rush their jumps. This is then followed by an oxer also 6.4 meters from the bounce. This part of the gymnastic will encourage your horse to sit on his hocks and push up, as well as stretching over the oxer. You can start off by making the oxer ascending, which will encourage your horse to open up his technique behind. Thereafter you can make the oxer square. Start nice and small, and slowly raise the fences as your horse becomes confident with it. Although this exercise best suites for experienced horses, it requires quite a bit of effort, so don’t go to large on this.
Gymnastic number 9
This gymnastic is good for agility, balance and technique as well as power and scope. The placing pole before the four bounces will help with your entry into the gymnastic, which is done at a nice collected canter. The four bounces are all crosses and are 3 meters apart. This is the balance agility and technique part of the gymnastic. You then move to the first oxer, which is one stride (6 meters) from the last bounce.
You place the placing pole exactly in the middle of this distance (3 meters) to regulate a nice stride to the first oxer. Your horse will get close to the base of the oxer and will have to use power, technique and scope when jumping the oxer. The second oxer is very much a repeat of the first oxer, however the distance is slightly longer at 6.4 meters. Not suited to novice horses.
Gymnastic number 10
This is a nice simple gymnastic, that’s good for a relatively novice horse and rider. You can leave this gymnastic in the arena for a long period of time as it doesn’t take up to much space. You can do it once or twice a week, and it will have a really positive effect on your horse’s technique, balance and agility. It will also give the rider an opportunity to work on their body position over the jump. It starts off with 3 trotting poles placed 1.2 meters apart. Then it’s about 2.8 meters to the first jump which is a cross. Then a bounce to the next jump, placed about 3 meters from the cross. And lastly one stride to a little oxer, placed 6 meters from the vertical.
This gymnastic will teach your horse to get comfortable with jumping close to the base of the jump, and will develop the technique of jumping up over the fence off his hocks. It will also improve his front technique and teach him to use his shoulder and jump in a nice round shape. This is extremely important when training a show jumper.
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