Last Updated on March 2, 2022 by Allison Price
Each horse’s gaits offer a unique tool for conditioning performance. If used properly, they can achieve results that are hard to believe. To achieve strength and looseness, it is best for horses to spend equal time in each of the three gaits during training sessions. Some conditioning phases may require horses to choose one gait over the other. This article will explain how individual gaits can be used to benefit the horse athlete, particularly his back, as well as how cavalletti routines may help.
Most riders spend too much time training at the same pace and gait, mostly the trot. Although this can lead to strength improvements, it does not promote flexibility or change postural habits. Walk and canter work are the best ways to loosen and increase flexibility in the hind joint and stimulate postural muscles.
A horse must be able to move well. He must have good tone and harmony in his muscle chain. A weakness or restriction in one part of the chain can cause problems further down and affect the entire system. To achieve proper movement, the extensor (topline of horse) and flexor chains of muscles must be in harmony. A horse’s potential is affected if there is too much or too little development in any of these systems. Each gait’s individual contribution is the best tool for finding the right balance. Cavalletti exercises are a concentrated method to teach each gait.
Horses should spend a lot of time walking if they need to learn a bad postural habit, such as crookedness or stiffness. This gait is especially useful when combined with cavalletti. It allows the nervous system to learn new habits and not be affected by the larger gymnastic muscles used during gaits with greater impulsion.
The walk allows riders to rewire motor and sensory nerves, increase joint mobility and remove restricted areas. If the nervous system is wired correctly for good posture, unrestricted movement, and gaits with greater impulsion, it can have a stronger conditioning effect. Horses with short trot strides and a scuffing trot should be trained to ride, rather than just walk. These horses will have more flexion in the hock and stifle joints. This will lead to more engagement of their quadriceps, flexor muscles, and more balance between topline muscle chains. They also experience a looser swinging back and longer strides.
Riders often think they don’t get enough work done when they go on walks. Walking creates movement and looseness. This is essential for strength gains. If you notice poor posture or restricted movement, it is time to spend more time walking with your horse.
These are the three best cavalletti walks:
Trot is the best gait to improve cardiovascular and muscle conditioning. It develops the topline tone of the muscles that move horses across the ground. Trot is a horse’s way of supporting the diagonal movement of his legs. Therefore, it is important that the horse’s back be firm. A horse that has lax musculature can have difficulty sustaining his weight, and this firmness can help him to gain the strength he needs. However, it could also lead to rigidity. These large muscles can multitask when a horse’s body posture isn’t correct. They try to do both the job of supporting position and creating movement. This is a dual role that muscles cannot perform and they become tense and hard.
Too much trotting can only make a horse’s poor posture worse. For this reason, it is best to use a small amount of trot to improve cardiovascular and circulatory health. It is also advisable that horses be trained with plenty of walking exercises in order for better posture and strength. Cavalletti patterns with poles placed no more than the horse’s normal trot stride ensure that the horse is able to organize his body and rhythm while he learns the trot. Cavalletti will help the horse control his stride and allow him to move at a precise height, speed, and length. His postural and gymnastic muscles systems are strengthened while he is in harmony.
Horses of all levels can benefit from these trot cavalletti exercises. These bending patterns encourage the use of horses’ oblique muscles which stabilize the horse’s body and allow for expressive, springy movement.
Learn how to love the canter. I use this mantra in clinics. Riders who ride atop horses that hurl, cross-fire or are rough at the canter tend to forget about the gait and assume that the canter will improve as the other gaits improve. This plan is often not successful. This is unfortunate considering the physiological benefits of cantering.
Even when cantering is not ideal, there are still huge benefits for horses. Cantering can improve your horse’s body symmetry, and muscle tone in ways that the other gaits can’t. Why? It allows for unrivalled flexibility in the lumbosacral joints, which are prone to tension and can affect a horse’s ability to round his head. The horse can engage more underneath his body if there is greater flexion or looseness in the joint. This region is not active in walk or trot. Canter is when both the hind legs swing forward, rocking the pelvis. To create suspension, the front end of canter is pushed upwards by the forelimbs. This upward thrust creates a trampoline-like motion in his torso, between his scapulae. This can help to loosen tight tissues.
The canter is the best way to measure the strength and volume of the back muscles. Cantering is an important tool for horses who have difficulty lifting their backs due to stiffness or bracing. Horses that are “blocked” or who tighten up when being asked to put the bit on their backs, cantering is a great tool. Although it is possible to teach muscles and build strength, cantering will not allow you to achieve the same agility and looseness in your spine as consistent cantering.
These exercises will give you the best results in canter schooling. The general rule is to place the poles at a height of 1 to 1.5 feet, so that the horse can take them seriously and feel the need to arrange himself for the approach.
A balanced horse and training program should include equal amounts of time in each gait. However, there are times when a particular phase in a horse’s growth may favor a specific gait depending on the issues. Trot increases strength, while canter and walk keep it flexible and loose. It is important to think about whether your horse’s problems are due to his gymnastic muscles or his postural. The answer will help you choose your cavalletti and gaits.