Cavaletti exercises are a great opportunity for horses of all ages and levels to get in some gymnastic work. It strengthens a horse’s muscles and helps to develop rhythm and suppleness. Regardless of your discipline – dressage, jumping or eventing – cavaletti exercises should be a part of every healthy horse’s training program. Even more in times of Corona.
Once a week is a good frequency for cavaletti exercises – you’ll see results without overworking your horse. Each horse’s qualities and individual characteristics will naturally play a role in the decision. Some horses find cavaletti exercises to be immense fun. Other must concentrate harder, and will be overtaxed more quickly. For the latter, you must take great care that the reprises are not too long. You don’t want your horse to get discouraged!
With canter work over cavaletti, the same applies to all horses: clearing several cavaletti in succession requires a lot of physical effort. Therefore, don’t ask this too often. It’s better to integrate two sets of four cavaletti exercises for the canter into your dressage training two or three times a week, than to work on this exercise for a half hour on one day!
3 cavaletti exercises from easy to difficult
Simple set-ups in walk and trot
To familiarise your horse with cavaletti exercises, you can start by walking him over one cavaletti pole. Very young and inexperienced horses will benefit from following a lead horse who appears calm and confident. It’s important that your horse steps over the cavaletti poles calmly and relaxed, and that you support and “close” him up with your aids. Don’t, then, simply throw the rein away, but it is imperative that your horse’s movement is not restricted through the wrong rein aids.
Start off with one cavaletti pole and work up to four poles. The distance between the poles should be about 80 to 90 cm for walking with large horses.
Cavaletti on curved lines for more engaged hind legs and suppleness
Working on a curved pattern is especially good for a horse with some cavaletti experience. This will give your horse a stronger workout: use the cavaletti to improve your length bend and encourage your horse to step under better with the inside hind leg.
An exercise you can recreate: divide the arena into two circles, leaving some place between them if you have enough room to do so. On the outside of the left-hand circle, place four cavaletti on a curved line, to walk over. The distance between the midpoints of each cavaletti to its neighbours should be 80-90 cm for larger horses. On the right-hand circle, place four cavaletti to trot over on the outside of the curved line, with a distance of 1.20 m to 1.30 m. This way you can vary between the circles and improve suppleness in both walking and trotting.
You can place a circle without cavaletti in the middle, for collecting or rest intervals.
Another possibility: ride in a large figure eight. At the transition point, slow down from a trot to a walk to switch to the cavaletti for the walk or, conversely, begin to trot there, to break the horse in to the trot cavaletti.
Cavalettis exercises in trot and canter on the figure eight – THE test for lightness.
When you can do the above two exercises flawlessly, you can then go a level higher and add the cavaletti on the canter. In the beginning, don’t use more than two cavaletti so that you won’t overtax your horse. Placed on a straight line at 3 metre intervals, they present your horse with a challenging task. Once your horse has mastered this cavaletti-canter, you can also try it on curved lines.
If you’re successful, you can move on to the next exercise. Divide a circle into two halves and on one side set up four trot cavaletti with the same measurements as in exercise 2 (if you imagine the circle as a clock face, then at 9 o’clock). Place four canter cavaletti on the other side (at 3 o’clock). For larger horses, the cavaletti should be laid so that the outside ends are 3 metres apart and the inside ends are 2 metres apart. On each half of the circle, mark 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock as the transition points. Before the canter cavaletti, canter to the transition point, after the canter cavaletti slow to a trot at the next transition point and ride over the trot cavaletti.
This exercise requires not only familiarisation with the cavaletti, but also responsiveness from your horse. You must be able to bend and collect your horse respectably, and he must react promptly to your aids and pay attention to you. Here too: don’t overdo it with this exercise – less is more! If you notice that the figure eight with trot and canter cavaletti is still a little too hard, or if your horse pushes away his back or resists, then go back a step, review your dressage basics and practice, for example, just the trot cavaletti or just the canter cavaletti separately for a while.
More advanced? (by Horse Physio.ch)