As restrictions from Covid-19 loosen, I’m excited to get back in the saddle. But with more than a month and show season quickly approaching, it’s tricky to determine where to begin. When my horse has had some time off or we haven’t jumped in a while, I love to use simple gymnastic exercises to help us both get back in shape and establish a good jumping rhythm. Here are three of my go-to gymnastics especially used after some time off!
1. Warm Up Circle
To warm up, I love a step rail on a circle. I use a set of Horsemen’s Pride Jump Blocks for this as I like using the varying height options. I usually do 2-3 circles over the step rail in each direction to focus on bending and getting my horse listening and in a jumping mindset.
2. On the Rail
One of my favorite gymnastic exercises is a bounce on one long side and a simple low vertical on the other long side. I use jump blocks on the highest side to set up the bounce and make cross rails to help encourage my horse to stay straight. Depending on your horse’s stride length and canter speed, the distance between the bounce could be anywhere from 9-12 feet. I set mine at 9 feet to help encourage my horse not to rush and to rock back and use his hindquarters properly. On the other side of the ring, I set up a simple vertical 1-2 holes lower than what I would normally jump. I then put a placing pole on both sides of the vertical, about 9-10 feet out. Again, this distance can vary between horses and is also dependent on the height of the vertical. The placing pole helps the horse remain steady to the fence, and the one on the landing side helps to encourage the horse get his feet down quickly and not charge off after the jump. I also love to stop in a straight line after the vertical so my horse doesn’t get into the habit of thinking he can go running around the ends of the ring.
3. Across the Diagonal
Another great gymnastic exercise is setting up a fan at one end of the ring. I use three poles for this and put them on a curve. I place the poles 9 feet apart at the middle so that the inside ends of the poles are closer than 9 feet and the outside ends are farther away. I then use a jump block to raise only the outside of the middle pole while leaving the inside end on the ground. This lifts the pole on an angle. These three poles are great to warm up over! I then set up a vertical across the diagonal, but also use two additional poles to make it a cross rail too. This helps the horse to stay straight and in the middle of the jump. Sometimes I will also add a simple bounce 9 feet apart (or 12 feet for longer-strided horses) at the other end of the ring and ride the pattern in an “S” shape.
4. Down Centerline
Last but not least, I also love to set up a gymnastic down the center of the ring. I set the distances for this based on the horse trotting into the exercise. To build this for my horse, I start with a 9-foot bounce using jump blocks. I then walk a one stride (18 feet from pole to pole) which I make either a cross rail or a vertical. I then walk another one stride between 18-21 feet (dependent on your horse’s step and the jump size) to an oxer. I usually start by just jumping through the bounce to the vertical a few times, and then add the oxer after my horse is tuned up and comfortable with going through the gymnastic. I also will often put a landing rail about 10 feet out after the oxer to help my horse think about the landing and still be listening after the exercise. The distance for this landing rail will vary depending on the size of your oxer. It’s a great idea to stop in a straight line after the gymnastic as well!
I hope these exercises help to get both you and your horse back in the jumping mindset! Feel free to share your favorite gymnastic exercise below, and I hope you get some barn time in soon. Have a great summer of riding!