Kent’s Gym­nas­tic Ex­er­cises

Practical Horseman - - Cross Country -

par­tic­u­lar day. If he’s a lit­tle stiff or a lit­tle slow, I might spend more time at the trot. If he feels good, then I might move on more quickly to the can­ter.

“One thing I no­tice when I see peo­ple rid­ing at shows, even at a high level, is how fast they ask a horse for a de­mand­ing com­pres­sion of stride even at the trot,” he said.

While rid­ers worked to get their horses to stretch, Kent in­structed them to come off the rail about 5 to 10 feet to en­cour­age straight­ness and to prac­tice cen­tered rid­ing to help the horses have bet­ter bal­ance. Par­tic­i­pants also were in­structed to re­verse di­rec­tion by rolling back into the wall, which helps make horses more obe­di­ent be­cause they don’t an­tic­i­pate turn­ing in that di­rec­tion. “You’re build­ing habits ev­ery day, a lit­tle bit bet­ter or a lit­tle bit worse,” he said.

He asked sev­eral rid­ers to re­lax in their po­si­tions and be a bit more nat­u­ral to help the horses to re­lax and work bet­ter. He ex­plained that while ev­ery­one has a dif­fer­ent body type and dif­fer­ent way of rid­ing, all that mat­ters is that the core prin­ci­ples are the same: Rid­ers are in the mid­dle of the horse and the horse is re­spon­sive to the aids.

As the rid­ers worked in the trot, Kent asked them to change seats from ris­ing to sit­ting trot. In the sit­ting trot he wanted them to go very slow—al­most a jog—so that it was com­fort­able and the horse was ac­cept­ing the seat and wait­ing.

“When­ever I’m un­com­fort­able sit­ting at the trot, I just go slower,” Kent said to Alex Pielet, who was strug­gling with a quick horse.

Kent en­cour­aged Olivia Wood­son, also on a hot horse, to work on teach­ing her mare to have a longer but not faster step. Kent asked the rider to do walk–trot tran­si­tions un­til she could find a bal­ance be­tween the two speeds. Then he had her switch back and forth from a post­ing trot to a very slow sit­ting trot—al­most a walk. “This is a good way to work hot horses and get them to calm down,” he said about the sim­ple tran­si­tions.

As in the trot work, when Kent asked rid­ers to shorten and lengthen their horses’ strides, he had the rid­ers can­ter at a nor­mal pace and then get into a lighter seat while ask­ing the horses for a longer stride. He re­minded Sara McCloskey to stay cen­tered—al­most ver­ti­cal—in can­ter. “Make sure when you go from sit­ting to a lighter seat that you’re not pitched ahead of the horse,” he said, ex­plain­ing that al­though it’s a tiny dif­fer­ence, think­ing about it on the flat will help with jump­ing.

“It’s go­ing to make you slower with your up­per body,” he elab­o­rated. “When I go to a lighter seat, it’s al­most like I’m go­ing straight up, like some­thing is pulling at the top of my head, not that I’m pitch­ing for­ward over the horse’s ears.”

Sim­i­larly, he ex­plained to Ce­cily Hayes that on her big, slow­mov­ing horse she had to be cog­nizant that she didn’t get ahead of the front of the sad­dle when light­en­ing her seat. “On that style of jumper you have to be very aware of your po­si­tion in or­der to help him jump clear.”

Rid­ers also worked in counter-can­ter in both di­rec­tions to help im­prove each horse’s bal­ance. If a horse was weak, Kent al­lowed the rider to use the wall to help find the bal­ance and then come off the wall again.

When Kent asked rid­ers to change di­rec­tions in can­ter, he again stressed the com­mon theme of train­ing the in­di­vid­ual horse. “It’s not any bet­ter do­ing a fly­ing change,” he said. “This is more about train­ing the horse. On a colder horse who is slow to my leg I would make him do a fly­ing change. On a hot­ter horse that I’m try­ing to slow down, I don’t think I would ever do a fly­ing change on the flat.”

Gym­nas­tic Work

Af­ter horses and rid­ers were warmed up, they worked on dif­fer­ent gym­nas­tic ex­er­cises, adding a new ex­er­cise each round un­til they were jump­ing a var­ied gym­nas­tics course. Kent noted that the dis­tances he used in the grid work were what he called “generic” dis­tances, or some­thing he would start ev­ery horse with and then would ad­just de­pend­ing on what was be­ing worked on. For ex­am­ple, if his horse was strug­gling to cover the dis­tance,

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