Or, “Flatwork Exercises That Will Improve Your Jumping”
Or, “The List of Things To Do When You Tell Me You Don’t Know What to Work On Outside of a Lesson”
Have you ever mounted your horse and wondered what to work on? Do you ever find yourself bored when riding? Fear not, there’s never any reason to lack things to practice and improve. This list will help you when you have a time to practice on your own between lessons. The list is in no way comprehensive, but gives you an idea of the myriad things to work on when riding. See how much you can put into practice on your own, without your trainer barking orders! Remember, in the words of William Steinkraus, “Anything that can be accomplished in 20 minutes probably wasn’t worth working on, and anything that takes longer than an hour can be put off to another day.” Have fun!
General riding concepts:
These are goals toward which to work. When confirmed, jumping courses will be easier and you will have confidence knowing you can get what you need when you need it.
– Forward, responsive to leg, building impulsion
– Straightness, horse is between your hand and leg, hind feet following front feet
– Suppleness / Bending, horse is laterally responsive to your leg
– Rhythm, evenness: 4-beat walk, 2-beat trot, 3-beat canter
– Connection, from leg to hand, so your horse is off the forehand and carries himself in good balance
The suggested activities below will help to work toward the concepts in the above list. This list includes some brief information about how to execute them. Your trainer can help elaborate on their uses and manner of execution, and there are countless books and magazine articles on these exercises and concepts.
(You can do these in any order or combination)
Hand gallop-halt-hand gallop
(Any combination of the above)
STRIDE ADJUSTABILITY Working walk (on contact)->free walk on a long rein (no contact)->working walk (no toe dragging, no jigging!)
Trot->lengthening of stride in trot->collected trot (horse is round and connected, not hollow)
Canter->lengthening of stride in canter->collected canter (goals same as trot)
Canter->hand gallop->collected canter
(Any combination of the above)
(At trot and canter)
(Hint: if you don’t know what those circles look or feel like, go measure it out and use cones for markers)
Circle while switching the bend from inside to outside and back again
Figure eight at trot and canter (Do you know the 19 Equitation Tests in the USEF Rule Book? Find them at usef.org)
Serpentine at trot and canter
The figure-eight and serpentine are more than just turning exercises; they test your ability to execute changes of bend and diagonal or lead, as well as your ability to ride a plan. How equal are your loops? Is your change of bend (and lead) happening at precisely the right point? Is your horse symmetrical?
Squared-turn serpentine at trot – Can you control the horse’s shoulder (and whole body) to make turns in a collected manner, for an accurate squared-off set of turns?
Big circle – medium circle – small circle, from one point on the side of the arena. Be precise. Add a pole at the opposite side (open part of the arena) to make sure the tracks and arcs are exactly as they should to be. Add cones if you need more landmarks.
Create different shapes in the arena (or out in the open) and see how precisely you can ride it: Bowtie, cloverleaf, barrel-racing pattern, etc.
Turn on the forehand
– If you need a landmark, do this while your horse faces a barrel or jump standard
Turn on the haunches
Spirals, at trot and canter – Maintain the bend while pushing in and then back out
Turn onto quarter line and leg yield to the rail
Counter bend through the end of the ring and point your horse at a forty-five degree angle to the walk and leg yield along the wall
Zig-zag to and away from the rail or down the center of the arena
If your horse is great at these, then you have the building blocks for half-pass (look up video of this – it is an advanced movement and better practiced with some help from the ground)
Angled serpentine at trot (1)
Do five or more loops, but make the turns 90 degrees at each side, so you push your horse’s shoulder through the turn (should feel like a turn on the haunches). Diagram included.
NOTE: DON’T SCHOOL FLYING LEAD CHANGES!!! If your horse doesn’t understand you, you can un-train him or her… (This should be done in lessons or shows; chances are your horse does them cleanly without needing to practice them). If your horse already does them well, you risk teaching your horse to swap on the diagonals while on course. Please talk to your trainer if need help with flying changes.
There are many exercises that help with flying changes, without actually practicing changes:
Simple changes through the walk and trot on a straight line (quarter-line, center line, diagonal line)
Canter across the diagonal, then continue in the same direction at the end of the diagonal (no change to new direction; you do a small arc back up the long side to continue on the same lead/direction)
Canter across the diagonal (no lead change), walk at the end of the opposite long side, leg yield toward the wall to straighten, canter on new lead
Serpentine at the canter with simple changes through the walk
Counter canter – YOU pick the lead. Whenever and whereever you like it. Please note that there is a BIG difference between the counter canter and the wrong lead.
No Stirrups (and do all of the exercises listed)
Ride with one stirrup; switch
Jumping position without stirrups
Then make it harder by picking up stirrups while in jumping position
Sitting trot (Hold pommel with one hand at sitting trot to feel the trot better, sit better, tighter)
Lengthen stride at sitting trot
Drop stirrups / pick up stirrups at walk, trot and canter
Touch your toes (on the opposite side), with and without stirrups (walk, trot, canter)
Jumping position / two-point, at walk, trot, canter (and all transitions)
Change diagonals while standing (every five or three strides)
Sit two beats and then stand one beat, or
Stand two beats and then sit one beat
Create any combination of sitting, standing and posting
Five strides posting, five strides sitting, five strides two-point
Touch your horse’s ears with both hands (walk, trot, canter)
Touch your horse’s tail with one hand, and then the other (walk, trot, canter)
Stand straight up
Hold the reins in one hand, then take your free hand and touch your helmet, shoulder, hip, knee, toe and then toe on the opposite side. Switch hands. Do this at the posting trot, in half-seat, and standing straight up.
Hold the reins in one hand, then take your free hand and put it straight up in the air, straight in front of you, out to the side, straight down, then do large circles, backward (like the back stroke). Switch hands.
Change hand position at two-point (short, long and auto-release)
Close your eyes (for a brief period, to feel your horse’s rhythm and balance)
ODDS AND ENDS
Around-the-world (drop your stirrups and spin around in the saddle, both ways)
Mount from the ground (yes, we know regularly mounting from the ground can be bad for your horse’s back, but *everyone* should know how to mount from the ground, should the need arise).
Mount from the ground on the off side
Switch your crop from one side to the other quickly, while trotting/cantering
Properly address your reins (no creeping hands!)
Properly tighten girth and adjust stirrups from the saddle (single hand, foot stays in stirrup)
Practice using a crop correctly (behind the leg)
Pick up the correct posting diagonal within the first two beats of picking up the trot
Pick up the correct posting diagonal with your eyes closed
Ground poles are a great way to keep your horse’s attention, work on fitness as a complement to hill work or conditioning sets, and can mimic coursework without using up your horse’s jumps. It’s low impact, you can make mistakes without harming you or your horse and it won’t get scary! You probably shouldn’t be jumping outside of a lesson anyway (definitely not if you are a junior rider at our stable).
This is a blog entry unto itself. You can also check out the first half of “100 Jumping Exercises for Horse and Rider” by Linda Allen for more ideas.
Single pole on the ground – trot and canter to make sure you can meet it evenly
Single pole on the ground – canter to it and count down the number of strides before to “see” your distance
Four trot poles set at 3 feet apart
Four trot poles set at 4.5 feet apart
Great if you can do both sets on different sides of the arena. Notice how short or how long you need to make your horse’s stride. Also pay attention to how it might change based on whether you are riding toward or away from the in-gate or your horse’s friends, or whether it’s your horses easy or hard side.
Two or three canter poles, set at 9-12 feet apart
Set one line to get four strides. Now add one stride and then take one out. Add two strides. Add more….
Ride the line to the corner and halt, turn to the outside to begin again.
Ride the line and then set one more pole at the end of the arena and practice finishing your track
*** You can do these exercises at the walk and trot if you need to keep things slow or more manageable.
Cloverleaf (many ways to set this) (2)
Set four poles in the corners and ride 3/4 turns to change direction from the quarter-lines, through the ends of the arena.
Course of Poles
Do diagonals and outside lines, work on riding a track, finding the middle of each pole – do this at trot first and then see if you can master it at canter. Count strides and do simple changes in the corners
Trot or canter poles on an arc (set like a fan)
Practice getting to the middle and then practice the inside and the outside track and see how you need to influence your horse’s impulsion and stride
Poles on a square – practice precise turns (“squaring your turn”)
Poles on a circle
Practice being centered and adjusting your horse’s stride and track to get even strides throughout. You can make it easier or harder, depending on how tight the turns are, and how many poles you lay out.
Skinny poles – we have an assortment of 4’-8’ poles that are good for simulating skinny jumps. Make it easier with jump standards or wings; make it harder by using the poles alone.
WOW – That’s a lot of exercises! So many things to work on! Now get to work!
P.S. There’s also conditioning sets, which I think all horses can benefit from, hill work (for building a powerful hind end on your horse), and don’t forget about actually riding in the heat. If you’re going to show in the heat, you need to be practicing in the heat. I could go on….