Gymnasticising as the basis of winter training
Our R&D Team has been looking at the benefits of gymnastic exercises for horses and riders. Suppleness, coordination, harmony, release and posture can all be improved through good gymnastic training. We discuss “gymnasticising” your horse along with various exercises that you can do.
I. The benefits of gymnastic training
Gymnastic training allows you to improve certain physical aspects of the horse such as coordination and the musculoskeletal system in general.
The advantage of gymnastic training is that it can be done as part of jumping or dressage training as well as on the ground or during lungeing work. There are any number of exercises to help you to meet the goals you have set for yourself and your horse.
However, gymnastic training for the horse means gymnastic training for the rider as well. In fact, certain exercises benefit riders by teaching them to work in harmony with their horse. During the time the horse needs to improve technique and trajectory, the rider can also concentrate entirely on their own physical processes and work on posture and relaxation.
Gymnastic training is therefore beneficial for both horse and rider. You can work together or alone on specific points such as flexibility, suppleness, openness, (self)confidence, relaxation, muscle toning and, of course, posture.
II. Wich exercices can I use to gymnasticise my horse ?
Our R&D team has selected some exercises for you to gymnasticise your horse – as well as yourself – which are good for training for both dressage and jumping.
Keep in mind that even exercises that seem simple can be difficult to execute well. Practise the exercises according to your abilities and those of your horse.
For young horses... Free jumping
One frequently sees that when young horses begin jumping work, their bodies and their movements are not always on the same page. Free jumping, therefore, is a basic exercise for the young horse. Free jumping allows the horse to jump a single obstacle or even several small obstacles without having to bear the weight of a rider.
The young horse can jump freely and learn to understand the functions of its body and its balance through the jumping process, from push-off to landing. This helps the young horse to better understand certain things that are essential for further learning, so that it can later approach the jump with more confidence when carrying a rider.
However, be careful not to overdo it, as jumping puts a lot of stress on ligaments, muscles, and bones in young horses who have not yet finished growing.
From dressage... lateral movements
Lateral movements are complete and variable exercises that help to develop and relax the horse’s muscles and improve responsiveness. Working on lateral movements also helps the rider achieve more suppleness and better coordination of aids.
In lateral movements, the horse’s limbs move away from and towards the body. All movements in which the horse moves towards one side are called lateral movements. They include leg yield, shoulder-in and travers, but also half pass.
Lateral movements work the adductor and abductor muscles in the hips and shoulders, the extensor muscles that allow the horse to move its forelegs forward, and the flexor muscles in the neck. The crossing of the horse’s front legs also works the chest muscles, a considerable benefit for show jumpers who need these muscles for support when landing after a jump.
Lungeing... exercises at trot and canter
This training can also be quite interesting for gymnasticising your horse. Here the horse has more freedom to move; at the same time, you can give additional aids through the connection via the lunge.
There are many possible exercises to do on the lunge; depending on the exercise, these can be performed in all three gaits and on each hand. It also requires the horse to take more responsibility for the lesson, analyse it, and adjust gait, impulsion and balance. The advantage of gymnastic exercises on the lunge is that you can repeat them in the saddle as soon as the horse understands them.
The exercise discussed here is particularly useful for horses that are under stress and tend to fixate on jumps or rush them. The figures for the exercise apply to a canter for a horse with an average stride length. You can change the distances to fit your horse’s stride length or if you’d rather do the exercise at a trot.
This set-up gives the horse a specific path and forces it to do the jumps in a relaxed manner. The take-off poles at push-off and landing “force” the horse to jump and land with precision by preventing the horse from pushing off too early or running off after landing. The poles on the ground between the obstacles ensure that you horse keeps an even rhythm.
Your job is to keep a soft, even connection over the lunge line. Your hand should give the horse the direction, which should lead to a slight flexion in the neck. If your aids are too strong or your hand is too hard, there is danger that the horse will lean on the bit and tighten up.
Jumping... gymnasticising lines and the Bardinet Line
There are a number of exercises and set-up options to work on gymnasticising, responsiveness and coordination of horse and rider at the jump.
The most popular are set up as a series of exercises which allow the rider to work on both the horse’s impulsion and technique as well as the rider’s posture and relaxation. In this type of exercise, the horse mobilises its entire topline, extending it through contact with the bit and becoming rounder. These exercises require a lot of engagement from the horse, which must put its weight on the hindquarters to maintain impulsion and balance during the sequence of jumps.
They can also be done at a trot with a take-off pole after which the horse automatically transitions to canter.
The Bardinet Line, named after the former French national trainer Jean-Paul Bardinet, is another good example for a series of gymnastic exercises. It makes for especially interesting gymnastics through alternation between cross rails and oxers. Here the horse must “draw in” over the cross rails (shorten stride and raise the shoulders) and then stretch its back and loosen up in to jump over the oxers.
The exercise should be done in stages, first with the crossed poles and then gradually adding the oxers.
In order not to “pinch” the horse too much on the short distances of this series, the rider must hold back and only keep light leg contact. Only start the jumping sequence when the horse is calm, and keep light contact with the mouth.
The data collected in live by the iPULSE will tell you your speed and pace to help you with these exercises. You can monitor your horse’s heart rate, for example, to help determine if the exercises are suitable and not too strenuous.