Ridden work is the most difficult part of cavalletti exercises. Everything so far has been preparatory work for further training and lays the foundation for responding to the rider’s aids in the saddle.

Different cavalletti layouts
Before every training session it is important to work out the exercises to be included and how to set out the cavalletti. There are many different cavalletti layouts that can be used for straight line work. The simplest is to place the cavalletti in a line alongside the wall on the long side of the arena, or out in the open parallel to the track. The horse should be able to stay straight over the cavalletti without easily running out and the rider needs to prevent any tendency to do this by riding correctly. If horse and rider are both inexperienced at cavalletti work, then ground-poles should be used first. Going over cavalletti set on the inside of the track is more difficult as a correct turn must be made in order to approach them straight. To make it easier, wings can be used on each side. By way of variety, the cavalletti can be set out on the centre line of the arena, which makes it easier to change direction and to work on both reins.

Cavalletti work in walk
Cavalletti can first be introduced under saddle when the horse is easy to ride in a straight line. One starts with a single unit and gives the horse a loose rein. The driving aids keep the horse straight. The first approach should be well prepared and the horse encouraged by the voice. The rider’s upper body should be inclined slightly forward to stay with the horse just in case he jumps. If the horse steps calmly over the first one, a row of not more than four cavalletti (set at 0.8-0.9 m apart) can be introduced.

It can happen that a horse will panic when he first sees a row of cavalletti, in which case it is important to take some away. Once he is settled, they can be replaced, making sure that the difficulty of the exercise is not increased too suddenly. Once the horse can cope, the final cavalletti layout can be used. The reins should be given away the first time so that the horse is free to find his balance. It is important to check that the distance between the cavalletti is suitable for the individual horse’s length of stride, and they should be altered as necessary. The horse should walk over them in the natural footfall of the gait, with even steps.

Only medium walk should be used over cavalletti and it must be ridden on long reins but with a light contact with the bit. The young horse should just overtrack the hoofprints of his forefeet with his hind feet in medium walk.

The length of stride is determined by the distance between the cavalletti. To maintain regularity, the young horse is next ridden on the bit, with the weight and leg aids pushing him into a soft contact with steady hands. As soon as the horse lowers his neck and accepts the contact he can be ridden over the cavalletti. It can be helpful to keep the hands low. At about one horse’s length before the cavalletti the rider’s hands should give forwards in the direction of the horse’s mouth so that he can stretch his neck forward and down without restriction. The rider’s upper body should be slightly forward to lighten the weight in the saddle. The horse should reach down with his nose and loosen his back muscles if he is ridden correctly over the cavalletti. However, it is not always possible to keep a soft contact with the bit. Horses with a low-set neck can hold themselves tight in the back, with a stiff neck, and go against the reins. In this situation riding a volte or figure of eight before the cavalletti to encourage the horse to bend and soften may help him to step under. From this point, the horse is ridden straight towards the cavalletti, and immediately allowed to chew the bit and take it forwards and down. This shows the horse how to stretch his neck down and use his back muscles correctly. The horse should be rewarded each time he does well. The exercises should be repeated a few times to achieve improvement.

The distance between the cavalletti is increased by riding at them on an angle, as opposed to straight, and this can cause loss of rhythm. Careless riding causes the horse to take fast steps which do not take any weight. Suddenly dropping the contact before the cavalletti also disturbs the horse and prevents him stretching forwards to the bit. However, the opposite of this is worse – strong hands combined with a tight seat and upright position prevents the horse’s back from swinging. Also, the rider should not lean back over the cavalletti in an effort to drive the horse forwards, but should use the lower legs and the voice. A short whip can be used on the shoulder if necessary. A long whip used behind the girth can be awkward when trying to give the hands forwards.

Correct placement of the cavalletti (0.8-0.9 m) can improve the medium walk, this being enhanced by allowing the horse to stretch forward and down into the reins at least by the moment he steps over the first one. Working over the cavalletti set for trot prepares the horse well for jumping and cross-country. Setting the cavalletti so as to allow the horse to take one trot stride between them helps to keep his attention and teaches him to concentrate on where he is placing his feet.

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