Diversity is the Key to Successful Training and Healthy Development

by | Nov 9, 2022 | Uncategorized

Whether you are training a racehorse, a show jumper, a dressage star or an eventer – cross training will help to keep your horse’s body balanced and fit, to strengthen tendons and ligaments and last not least your horse’s mind engaged and happy.

Training for a specific discipline can easily become a boring, motivation depriving routine for both the horse and the rider and horses can easily loose the spark in their performance and might even develop indifference or even behavioural issues; especially if training is always done on the levelled ground of an arena, this will have tremendous impact on the overall physical performance, the strength and flexibility of ligaments and tendons, the flexibility of the lower back and much more.

Scheduling a good trail ride up and down hills, stepping over logs, balancing out uneven ground will make your training program more varied, it helps to improve overall physical strength, balance, coordination and last but not least adds a fun component to the routine – for both, horse and rider! A trail ride does not mean you have to miss out on exercises! Many dressage exercises can be performed just as well outside the arena.

Here are some exercise suggestions that can be integrated into a trail ride:

  1. Warm up walking in hand or riding. The described exercises like turn on the forehand (where the front stays still whilst the horse steps across with the back leg) can be done led or ridden depending on the education level of your horse.
  2. Turns on the forehand or on the hind quarters and stepping backwards are good warm up exercises before mounting the horse and can be done on any level ground. Do this before mounting and you will notice the difference!
  3. For the turn on the forehand exercise, stand next to your horse’s shoulder, softly hold the bit ring on your side to slightly bend your horse’s head and neck, your other hand holding the opposite rein in shoulder height. Give a vocal signal (like “Side” or a click) and softly touch the flank of the horse so it steps over.
  4. Repeat from the other side. Once done, ask your horse to take 2-3 steps back.
  5. Walking up a hill the hind is carrying and pushing most of the weight. The horse raises the back, hind muscles and abdominals have to work hard – great to combat skittishness Your horse should stay on the contact and in the walk and should keep its rhythm.
  6. Lateral movements show how well your horse is responding to your aids. If your horse isn’t ready yet for shoulder-in, try leg-yielding.
  7. Shoulder-in helps to loosen up your horse and helps with collection because the horse needs to step well under.
  8. Ride shoulder-in for a few steps in walk, ensure the correct 30-degree angle bending of your horse and between exercises let your horse walk on a straight line to avoid the exercise coming to a halt or out of rhythm. It is of absolute importance to start this exercise from a strong forward motion, and keep the forward motion throughout – if you feel you are losing forward motion, straighten the horse up and walk until you regain the forward motion, and then start again.
  9. Walk over smaller fallen trees, branches or other objects – this improves coordination and concentration and helps your horse to place its feet more consciously. Lead your horse to the obstacle and place it so that you and your horse are standing on opposite sides of it.
  10. If your horse is supposed to step over with its right front leg first, make your horse bend slightly to the left to take the weight off and free the right shoulder. Once the right leg is over the obstacle, stop for a moment and give your horse a chance to think. Then go on with asking the left front leg to step over and so forth.
  11. Backwards around a corner – this shows how well your horse responds to your aids and how well-established coordination and bending really are. Use any bending in the path, pile of wood sitting next to the way etc. Stop 2-3 horse lengths after it and do not turn to watch where your horse is going as this would shift your weight into an incorrect position! Look ahead instead whilst asking your horse to go back in a straight line until the corner of the path or pile of wood etc (whatever you are trying to circumnavigate) is next to your knee. Now steer your horse backwards around the bend whilst ensuring that your horse is not falling out to one side – use your outer rein and leg to provide guidance.
  12. Backwards up the hill – this is very, very hard work for the hind, so please do not overdo it and only ask for this exercise if your horse is already able to go backwards in a straight line on even ground.
  13. In order to step up a hill backwards your horse needs to bring the hind under whilst lifting the back. Choose any slope along the trail but make sure the surface is even and not slippery. This exercise can be done in hand or ridden. Please start with a slight slope before trying steeper ones and start with a few steps only. Increase steepness and number of steps slowly over time.
  14. Changing tempi and stride lengths – changing gaits, lengthening, and shortening strides both loosen up and strengthen the muscles, such exercises are good indicators of your horse’s concentration levels and its willingness and ability to respond to your aids.
  15. Send your horse into a good working trot (choose a two-point seat to start). Aim for a pre-set point where you intend to slow down into walk. Choose your point in the near distance where you start trot again, to increase or slow down trot or change into canter.
  16. When doing canter work make sure to consciously change between right- and left hand canter (if you don’t consciously choose a side, your horse will always choose the one side that is easier for it!). Incorporate enough walking phases in between to give your horse’s brain and body time to recover and breathe.
  17. Swift turns – great exercise for both warming up (don’t ask for turns too tight yet if you just started your ride), flexibility and to calm a home-rushing horse.
  18. Choose a path of at least 2-3m width so turns don’t have to be too tight. Ensure to keep rhythm and tact, and increase the width of the turn if your horse becomes too forward.


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