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.
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.
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.
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.