Kent’s Gymnastic Exercises
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.”
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,