Using Cavalletti effectively

Cavalletti work is an excellent way to strengthen your horse
Cavalletti work is an excellent way to strengthen your horse. Image via

Cavalletti exercises are excellent for helping your horse develop rhythm, build his topline, gain confidence over obstacles and become a better athlete.

When I first got Freedom I used them extensively because he had absolutely no trot. He was the proverbial sewing machine — trotting up and down going nowhere at a million miles per hour. Of course, for a racehorse, that’s not unusual. They don’t train at the trot, so it’s never fully developed.

Using trot poles on the ground helped him understand that I wanted a completely different gait, one with suspension, one that covered ground. I started with just one pole and eventually I worked up to six in a row. Today he has an amazing trot. He has a trot lengthening to die for. He (and I) just didn’t know he had it in him.

Years ago I also used trot poles and raised cavalletti to teach my horse Bogie how to do a lengthening. Bogie was a Quarter Horse mix. He didn’t have much suspension and he had a longish back. Cavalletti exercises did a lot to make him stronger. He never had a showy trot, but he definitely improved.

How to use Cavalletti

The big trick with ground poles or Cavalletti is proper placement. If the poles are too close together you will cause the horse to shorten his gait; too far apart and it will cause your horse to rush or become unbalanced.

You should always start your horse over distances that are natural for your horse. Once you’ve established rhythm and balance with this spacing, you can adjust the distances to enable training. Increasing the distance between the poles can help your horse build the strength to hold a trot lengthening.

  • Start with one pole. Once your horse can walk/trot/canter over that pole then add a second. Add the poles gradually because it takes a lot of strength for your horse to hold himself over the exercise.
  • For work at the walk, place poles 3 feet apart, starting with poles on the ground.
  • For work at the canter, start with the poles 9 feet apart, also on the ground.
  • When your horse is comfortable with this distance and no height, then raise one side of the poles without changing the distance.
  • You can begin to increase the distance between the cavalletti once your horse is moving rhythmically through the series. This will help your horse build the strength to sustain suspension.
  • Cavalletti work is very tiring for horses. Make sure to take breaks and do not overdo the exercises.
  • Every horse is different. Be prepared to adjust the distances to suit your horse.
  • It’s much easier to set up cavalletti when you have someone on the ground to help you. Otherwise you’ll be hopping off your horse every time he knocks a pole out of position.

Here’s a useful video demonstration:

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