What is gymnastics for horses

Don’t worry, no balance beams are involved.

Gymnastic jumping, also called gridwork, uses poles and fences at set distances to build the confidence of a horse-rider team over fences and improve jumping technique. Gridwork can be as simple as trot poles or highly complex, depending on the skill of both the horse and rider. You may be interested in gridwork if you want to improve your rhythm over fences or if your horse has difficulty with distances. Here’s how to get started with a basic grid:

Get an assistant

First of all, you need an assistant. Gridwork should not be attempted alone and the fences are adjusted quite often so another person is important to the process. Choose a flat, open space, preferably in an arena, where you have a long, straight distance to ride through.   Start off with four trot poles spaced between 3’6” and 4’6”. Most horses of average size have a 4’ trot stride. Ponies may need the trot poles spaced closer than 4’ and large horses wider. Four trot poles are always best at the start of a grid because a horse requires a minimum of four strides to establish a steady rhythm. Since gridwork is all about teaching your horse rhythm, developing an initial rhythm over the trot poles is vital. Make sure your approach is straight and the spacing is correct for your horse. If your horse is trotting through the poles with rhythm and impulsion, it should not have to stretch or shorten its stride. Let your horse post you out of the saddle over the poles, otherwise you will interfere with the natural rhythm of the stride and disrupt the exercise.

Gridwork is all about teaching your horse rhythm

Next, add a 2’ crossrail roughly 8 to 9 feet behind the last trot pole (use the same distance principles described above to identify the correct distance for your horse’s stride). Post over the trot poles and approach the crossrail. At this point, your horse should have enough energy to trot over the crossrail and canter away. Assume jumping position after the last trot pole and remain this way over the crossrail and any additional fences you may add.

Let’s talk position for a minute.

You should not move from a balanced jumping position until the horse completed the exercise. If you move during takeoff or while in the air you will hinder your horse’s ability to effectively jump and render the exercise ineffective. Nothing sours a horse to jumping more than a rider getting in his way and preventing him from doing his job. As soon as your horse is straight and moving forward with impulsion, your only job is to stay out of his way.

You can add additional fences one at a time (see diagram for heights and distances) once your horse has developed a rhythm over the trot poles and crossrail. Remember that rhythm and proper spacing are far more important than the height of any fence. Unfit and green horses will sour if pushed to jump grids that are too high. Instead keep the fences lower and get to know your horse. Develop a feel for when he is going to jump and try to make your timing seamless with his. Make sure to add leg after each fence in order to maintain constant energy throughout the exercise. If your horse develops an irregular rhythm or runs out you need to use more leg and develop a more consistent jumping position. Chances are you are lacking confidence and getting in your horse’s way. Gridwork is an excellent way to build confidence because the distances are fixed and your horse should jump the same way each time if you have set the grid up and are riding correctly. The layouts for a gymnastic grid are endless so have fun with it and figure out what combinations work best for you and your horse.

Leave a Reply