We find that studying theory complements practical training. Many difficulties in training are overcome when one does not rely just on ‘feel’ as a rider but also learns theoretically what to do before embarking on training a horse.

The rider is responsible for the well-being of the horse. Only a healthy horse, whose muscles and condition are carefully monitored, can perform well over time. Horse and rider should be partners but this partnership cannot survive without the rider being ultimately responsible for it.

Freiherr von Langen (dressage gold-medallist at the 1928 Olympics) once said ‘Have self-discipline and respect every living being! He was an early advocate of cavalletti work, but why is it so useful for training both horse and rider and how can it best be used?

Training the horse is about improving natural gymnastic ability. The horse’s all-round musculature and physical strength should be improved and the joints made more flexible; an important factor when it comes to improving the gaits and movement of the horse. Cavalletti work is invaluable as part of this training. Muscles are built and strengthened by movement. When they are not correctly worked by contraction and relaxation the wrong muscles develop, causing problems. Cavalletti work is a way to ensure controlled development of the muscles and to improve the horse’s movement. The horse develops higher and more powerful steps and becomes more sure-footed. The joints of all four legs become more flexible and as a result the quality of the gaits is improved.

With dynamic contraction and extension of the various muscle groups the important muscles required by the horse for movement are strengthened. However, if cavalletti work is done for too long or the cavalletti are set too high or too far apart for the horse, his natural rhythm can be disturbed and there is a risk of muscle strain. Muscles only develop correctly when their movement is in accord with the natural functioning of the related joints. Only cavalletti work that is systematic, increasing the difficulty of the exercise over time, will improve a horse’s musculature. If done in this way, it is suitable for improving stiff or weak muscles, especially for horses with problems caused by bad riding. Horses with low-set necks, who tend to come behind the vertical, can be encouraged to work the correct back muscles. After a short time, they can work much better from behind, with fluid movement and a lighter forehand. The horse’s back is able to swing and becomes more comfortable for the rider to sit on.

Furthermore, horses who have been ridden over fixed poles learn to be well balanced; they are more confident in their steps and can judge the length of their strides better when jumping. Balance and surefooted-ness are particularly necessary when riding cross-country over uneven ground.

Rising trot should be used over cavalletti with young and inexperienced horses so as not to disturb the swinging of the back and the development of the correct muscles. Cavalletti work helps one to understand and work with the mentality of the particular horse. The way the horse copes with cavalletti – whether he is quiet and willing or strong and resistant – is indicative of his temperament, character and intelligence. Different demands can be made from the horse by varying the exercises and changing the layout of the cavalletti. The horse becomes more attentive and, above all, more confident.

The important point regarding the usefulness of cavalletti work in basic training is this: cavalletti work makes basic training easier for all horses. It offers the opportunity to overcome problems in jumping and dressage and is unsurpassed in developing a safe and natural way to ride cross-country.

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