Only got 4 poles/jumps? No worries, try these exercises out at home. You don’t need to always jump big to train for the questions that course designers ask at shows.
Pinwheel of Death aka Circle of Death – terrible nickname for a great exercise!!! The poles can be placed on a 20m diameter circle to start with, and decrease once you build collection and balance with your horse. This means that the inside edge of each pole should be about 54ft apart on either side of the circle. Start with poles on the ground and then try making them cavaletti height (approx. 12-18 inches). You should probably get about 4 strides between each pole, but don’t focus on the strides but rather the rhythm and bend and jumping from center to center. You will soon figure out what is the optimum number of strides for your horse that will enable you to smoothly jump each in the same rhythm and not run past the next one (if this happens, you are going too fast and/or not keeping the bend over the pole/cavaletti).
Switchbacks aka Zig-zag line: These poles/cavaletti can be placed end to end at about right angles to each other (just make sure you have left enough room for the rollback from the arena fence). Plan your rollback before getting to each pole/cavaletti (create the new bend and have your legs in the correct position to ask for the change over the pole) and remember to use your eyes to rollback on a straight line perpendicular to the next pole. Maintain a quiet, steady rhythm, start with larger rollback circles and then decrease the size of the rollbacks as you are more organised and keep them symmetrical.
Bending lines: These can be done as poles on the ground, cavalettis or jumps. You can play around with the distances, but remember it will depend on the size of the fence, as well as the size of the horse/pony. If they are poles on the ground, then allow 3-4 feet landing and takeoff, then a regular horses non-jumping stride is 12 feet, so a bending 5 stride line of poles on the ground will be 66-68 ft on the curve, same with cavaletti. If they are fences of about 90cm and above, then you can build it on 70-72 ft. Depending on the number of strides you want, you need to adjust the above numbers by 12 feet (subtract 12 feet for 4 strides, add 12 feet for 6). Remember to ride the turn and get to the fence perpendicular and plan your bending line. Do you expect your horse to do a flying lead change over the fence? If so, you need to give him the correct aids before you take off so he can change in the air. Practice getting your legs aids in place the second last stride before he takes off. Stay smooth and use your eyes, this exercise is about planning ahead.
Lead Finder: Great exercise for those that struggle with knowing which lead you’re on. Better if these are cavaletti than poles. Distances can be a quiet 3 or 4 strides between the first two poles (42/44 ft or 54/56 ft). The curving distances to either side can be whatever you like it to be, just base it on a 11-12 foot canter stride, and allow 3-4 feet landing and takeoff (for cavaletti sized jumps, need 6 feet take off and landing for 90cm and above sized jumps)
Bending Bounce Massacre – this is for experienced combinations only. It requires plenty of preparation and correct aids at the correct time. Make sure you are using your leg and rein aids properly and not leaning to show the horse where to go. Slow canter in, distance between the centre of each pole/cavaletti is 9-10 feet.
Figure 8 Bouncy house aka The magic square: Great exercise to start to teach your horse flying changes, or practice the changes without leaning and remaining as straight as possible. It gives the horse 2 chances to change it lead, usually they will change in front over the first pole and behind over the second pole. These need to be about 11-12 feet apart, which will make a perfect square if you have 12 feet poles, if not, you will have just a small gap between the ends. Remember to start changes the bend as you approach the first pole and “ask” with your legs gently as you pop over the first poleand keep your legs there while cantering over the second. Don’t speed up, let the poles do the work and the horse think about what is happening. You need to canter straight through the square, and not lean and cut corners, ensuring that you use your leg and rein aids properly.
Across the Center: No particular distance required here, it will help improve your eye and make you maintain a smooth rhythm to get nice balanced corners and remain straight after the pole. Inside leg here with this one guys!
The serpentine can be placed at whatever distance you find challenging enough, probably 20m between the center of each pole is a good starting point. These can be poles on the ground or cavaletti, or jumps. Use your eyes to help get your body in the correct position before each pole (look ahead to the next pole) have your legs in the correct position and horse focused and bending in the direction you are about to turn. Can you do this one smoothly each direction.
TIP: Most of these exercise will highlight your horses stiff side (the side they fall in on) and their hollow side (the side they bulge on) so they should start to get you thinking about counteracting them maybe with more inside leg, or perhaps straightening with the outside rein and leg.
All of these exercise are for canter, but are great group exercises and most can be used for walk/trotters as well. (not bounces massacre though).