Who doesn’t get bored going in circles? Olympic Equestrian and TSB author Ingrid Klimke says that riding over cavalletti on circles and half-circles can be a welcome change, not only improving the rider’s seat so it is more secure and balanced, but developing “feel,” as well. And there are many benefits for the horse.
“Cavalletti work on circles and half-circles helps to loosen the horse, and can rectify stiffness on one side or the other, so the horse bends and flexes equally in both directions,” she writes with her father Reiner Klimke in their bestselling book CAVALLETTI. “If a horse is not straight, he will often lose rhythm – this where cavalletti work can help by restoring elasticity and encouraging the placing of the hind feet under the center of gravity.
“Over poles, the horse does not have the chance to step out to the side with the hind legs. The length of stride and placing of the feet is so precise that the horse maintains rhythm by himself. It takes very little practice before the hind feet step into the tracks of the front feet—and the horse becomes straight.
“Riding over cavalletti on circles is especially beneficial for training the horse’s inside hind leg to take weight. Because of this it can be quite strenuous, so avoid doing it for too long.”
1 Set up cavalletti on a circle. One exercise Ingrid recommends is on either end of a figure eight. Pick up a working trot, circling in your horse’s stronger (better) direction, keeping sure your seat light.
2 Just before the cavalletti, move your hands slightly forward, and ride exactly over the center of the cavalletti. If all goes well, change direction, and ride over the cavalletti in the other direction. The aim is to work the horse evenly on both sides, to work on lateral bend and suppleness through the ribs.
3 After working on the circle, do some exercises on the straight: ride forward on the long sides of the arena to re-establish freedom of movement. Riding forward helps overcome any stiffness or resistance.
4 Ride over the center of the cavalletti again, but now on each subsequent circle, make the circle bigger, moving out to where the space between cavalletti is larger, so the horse has to stretch more, making his steps bigger. This means that the inside hind foot must push off the ground with more energy and at the same time take more weight. At this point it is easy to cross the boundary between training to build muscle and straining muscles. For this reason, this exercise should only be repeated a few times, riding each circle just once in each direction every time.
5 Gradually bring the lesson to a finish. It is important to ride some easy exercises that the horse is familiar with at the end of the session. Finishing on a good note makes work the next day twice as easy. After working on circles a few times, allow the horse to stretch.
For more cavalletti exercises from Ingrid Klimke, check out her book CAVALLETTI, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.
And if you are a dressage rider, don’t miss Ingrid’s new DVD series TRAINING FOR DRESSAGE HORSES—the first level is now available!
TSB wishes Ingrid Klimke and all Olympic equestrians the best of luck in Rio 2016!
Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.