In, Up, Over and Out
Gymnastic exercises strengthen a rider’s position and improve a horse’s form over fences.
By AQHA Professional Horsewoman Cindy Reddish with Meghan Mackey for The American Quarter Horse Journal | March 7, 2011
When you think of gymnastics, you probably think of a tiny powerhouse performing wildly athletic stunts on a balance beam or tumbling across the floor at high speed only to perform an even more impressive leaping, twisting, flipping maneuver just before reaching the end of a cushioned mat. It’s an awesome example of strength and control.
But gymnastics for a horse?
In a horse’s gymnastic routine, he performs a series of jumps over anything from a pole on the ground to an oxer, improving his strength, body control and form over the fences, while the rider receives the same benefits.
The American Quarter Horse Journal caught up with AQHA Professional Horsewoman Cindy Reddish at Fox Lea Farm in Venice, Florida. Cindy drew up some gymnastic exercises, and Kyle Kellog and his horse, Whats New In Blue, demonstrated how to ride through them while getting the maximum benefit for both horse and rider.
Trot Poles in Two Point
You can start with 5 feet between the poles, but there’s not really one set distance for the trotting and cantering poles. I adjust them to the horse’s stride to make it comfortable, shortening the distance between the poles for a shorter-strided horse and lengthening it for horses with longer strides.
Starting with the poles on the ground gives the rider something more than just trotting around the outside of the ring in their two-point position. It teaches them to steer with their legs and keep their horses straight and moving forward, keeping the same rhythm.
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Place two canter poles on the ground with about 10 feet per stride between them. You want the horse to be elastic, where he will do a line in say, five strides, and then do it in six strides and the next time do it in four strides.
If you’re coming to a fence and you need to say whoa, your horse should come back to you. If you need to go forward, the horse should be able to move up. Practicing with poles on the ground makes it so you don’t have to worry about the fences while teaching your horse to be adjustable.
When you start the gymnastic, start with just the X and the trot pole, and leave the poles on the ground for the next two jumps. Trot in over the pole, jump the X and canter out over the pole and the next two elements of the gymnastic, which are lying on the ground. You should be thinking about holding your position and letting the horse jump up to you.
Do that a few times, and when you and your horse have done it well, raise the second jump, go through, and then raise the third jump.
Watch the hunter hack winning run at the 2009 Ford AQHYA World Championship Show.
For the Rider
What you need to do as you progress through the gymnastic is keep your position all the way through, letting the horse jump up, canter a stride. You should do nothing, absolutely nothing.
It’s sort of like if you had someone sitting on your shoulders and you’re trying to walk or run. The best thing the person on your shoulders can do is nothing.
You don’t want to interfere with the horse’s movement. So when you’re going through a gymnastic line like this, you want to stay still, really still. Don’t change, don’t sit, don’t do anything between each obstacle. You need to have the same position over the pole, over the X and as you progress to each jump.
For the Horse
These exercises are also good for your horse because they’re in a situation where they have to jump, rock back a little bit, jump.
For the horse’s stride, you can change the distances accordingly. If you want the horse to get in deep and rock back and jump up and around the jump, then put the jumps a little closer. If you have one that needs to lengthen and move up a little bit, move the jumps out a bit further. It depends on the situation and the horse’s needs.
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Start by going through the line with each element set as an X and make sure the horse is comfortable going down the line. Then you can put up a little vertical to a little oxer.
You can make this gymnastic longer by adding a fourth fence at 24 feet (one stride) or 34 feet (two strides) out. It’s a progression.
There are other gymnastics you can do, too. There’s a bounce, which would be 9 feet apart, and that’s a really good one because they basically have no strides between the fences.
There are so many variations to gymnastics, and they all help your horse with his jump style and you with your equitation.