Cavaletti

The key to dealing with the heat and keeping the horse interested in the training is introducing variety.  I can offer my horse variety without sacrificing his conditioning and training.  Today I set up cavaletti, based on the Klimke book of the same name.  I currently have Ingrid & Reiner’s book, which is a new edition of Reiner’s classic book.  The book is updated for jumping.  For my purposes, I wish I could find my old copy, as I want more directives for dressage.  This edition will still give you guidelines.  Cavaletti improves balance, muscle, and activity from the hind end.   It teaches the horse to relax his neck, arch his back, and seek contact.

I set up two grids, one for the walk and one for the trot.  Since Monarch knows about cavaletti and trains 2nd and 3rd level, I set up the maximum number of poles- 6.  If your horse is new to cavaletti, or is not in good shape, start with 1 pole and build from there.  The Klimkes give ballpark distances for each gate.  I made measuring sticks for Monarch’s gates based on suggested distances.  This made building cavaletti go more quickly.  As you can see, 3′ is Monarch’s walk distance, and his trot is 4’6″.  Having 2 measuring sticks makes the building of the grid even faster.  Mark the trot on one side and the walk on the other side.

measuring sticks

measuring sticks

building the grid

building the grid

My cavaletti were made from simple garden fence rails, about $1 each and scraps from fence posts.  The fence post scraps are 2′ – 3′ long, with 2 small wood scraps screwed into each post.  The distance between the scraps is the width of a rail.  The fit is quite snug, so if Monarch hits a rail, the cavaletti grid stays in tact, and he does not stumble on a loose rail.  Training can continue, as I do not have to unmount to reset the rail.  This set up is easy to build and easy to store.

walk grid

walk grid

Since I am short on posts, if I build both a walk grid and a trot grid, I set up the walk grid with alternating sides raised.  This keeps Monarch stepping high through the walk grid.   Because there is no moment of suspension in the walk, hence little impulsion, Monarch had a tougher time with the walk grid.  Because of his tendency to knock a rail in the walk grid, I will experiment with distances next time I set them up, to see if the issue is with the height of the grid or the distance between rails.  I suspect that 3′ may be a bit long for him now, and that we will need to work into that distance.  I am working to improve his walk, as he does not take big, free walk strides.    This summer through stretches  and training,  I have improved the walk, so that he now tracks up.  With concentration and diligence, I can encourage him to overtrack by 1/4 (and sometimes 1/2) of a hoof print.  I am hoping that the cavelleti will also help with this physical training.

trot grid

trot grid

The trot height and spacing was perfect.  Monarch produced a lively trot with much suspension and never knocked a rail.    The Klimkes recommend omitting a rail, so the horse learns to keep the rhythm and stride even when one rail is removed.  I liken that idea to removing the training wheels on a bicycle.  Because 6 is the maximum recommended number of  rails in a grid and one rail is omitted, this type of grid needs only 5 rails.

The cavelitti created a challenge for my horse, which kept his interest on a hot day of training.   After a thorough warm up, focusing on confirming rhythm, encouraging suppleness, and creating contact, we worked in the grid for about 25 minutes.  It’s best to quit when your horse is very smooth through the grids, before he gets bored, tired, and/or sore.  This work is much like pilates for the rider, so he is really using his abs to raise his back and thrust with his hind end.  Finish the ride with a good cool down on a loose rein, with lots of stretch and a long neck.

Knee Deep in Flowers

It’s turned hot in southwestern Colorado.  My horse gets extremely lazy working in the arena to develop good conditioning through schooling dressage figures.  At this time of the year, to keep him happy, I plan to do other activities to keep his mind fresh.  Then when we do dressage, he is far more willing to work with energy.  In the coming weeks I will post alternate  activities Monarch & I are doing to keep us interested while pursuing our path of harmony.

A trail ride is always great for the horse’s mind, as well as for conditioning.  The trail teaches the horse to be clever with his feet.  In Colorado, the mountainous terrain allows us to build aerobic capacity through hill climbing, as well as to develop hind end strength on the descents. Getting out of the arena, with other horse buddies piques my horse’s interests, especially because he has many friends that he only sees when we plan rides or group training.  Open country exposes horses to a wealth of stimulation, teaching the horse to trust his rider and himself when approaching new sights, sounds, and smells.

"Knee Deep In Flowers"  above Montrose, Colorado on the Divide Road, Renee on Sonny; Monarch & I

“Knee Deep In Flowers” above Montrose, Colorado on the Divide Road, Renee on Sonny; Monarch & I

CAVEATS:  Of course bring plenty of water, a first aid kit, rain gear, your cell phone, and some food.  In the high country on a summer day, it is best to be mindful of afternoon storms.  Plan to leave by 2 or 3 pm to avoid lighting.  Bring plenty of fly spray, as the black flies are relentless.  (Be sure to practice at home or in an arena having your horse stand quietly while you sit on his back and spray him.  Then when he’s very bothered by a swarm of black flies on the trail, he will willingly let you spray to give him some relief.)   Always ride in long sleeves- no matter how hot it is.  If you run into a swarm of biting flies, you will rue the day you left your shirt at home.  Beware of trails open to motorized dirt bikes, especially single tracks.  I had a scary encounter today- stay vigilant!  If you need to, explain to cycle riders their responsibilities to sharing the trail safely.