Frank Madden’s Top Ten Favorite Equitation Exercises The definition of equitation is good riding. Whether you ride in the equitation, hunter or jumper rings Frank’s exercise will enable you to develop suppleness, balance and straightness at home and prepare to you execute in the show ring.
1) Develop Impulsion (Longitudinal) Impulsion is the foundation of good equitation. At the walk, trot and canter the horse must be in front of the rider’s leg and up to the bit. Riders must be able to regulate the beat at each gate; four beats at the walk, 2 beats for the trot and three at the canter. Make sure to maintain the consistent and steady contact through the reins to the horse’s mouth and control the tempo and speed at regular rhythm at each gait.
2) Maintaining Impulsion and Connection in Transitions (Longitudinal) Now, that your horse is in front of your leg and on the bit it’s time to add in transitions. Maintain that impulsion during upward and downward transitions at all three gates. To determine if the horse is on the bit and moving from the leg there should be some tension on the reins and a steady contact and should not bounce between slackness and tauntness. Ask yourself how animated is the tempo? Lastly, take note of your horse’s expression his ears should be forward and happy with his work. If you have impulsion you will also have adjustability and balance. Mastering impulsion through transitions is the first test of legitimacy as a rider.
3) Shoulder’s In and Shoulder’s out (Lateral Work) Shoulder-in and Shoulder-out, in dressage training it’s one of the more basics moves. It’s an extremely effective exercise for improving balance and suppleness. The rider asks the horse to move his shoulders either to the inside track or the outside track while keeping the haunches steady and in a track as if moving forward in a straight line. Typically a horse will move on two tracks, one on the left with the left hind and left fore lined up and one for the right side. When executing a shoulder’s in or out the horse moves to three tracks; one front foot creating one track, the other front and opposing hind limb lining up in the middle track and the single hind limb creating the third track.
4) Basic Cavaletti work on a straight line (Longitudinal) For this exercise, set two cavalettis on the ground set 8’ – 9’ feet apart. The rider then rides over them at the walk, the trot and the canter working on keeping the impulsion, straightness and rhythm. Cavalettis are the link between flatwork and jumping.
5) Cavaletti work on a curve. Set three cavalettis on a curve with a distance of 34’ – 36’ between each cavaletti. These can be ridden at all three gaits and in both directions, however, the most important gait is the canter with three strides between each cavaletti. Maintaining a consistent rhythm is paramount. Focus on the impulsion created in exercise 1 and 2 and then on the lateral work from exercise 3. The horse must be on the bit and on the outside rein. This is a great exercise to develop a riders sense and feel of just how important their outside rein is and how to use it properly.
6)Three Jumps on a straight line (Longitudinal) Using three low jumps, set them on a straight line with a distance of 45’ – 46’ feet between the elements. This can be done as all verticals or a combination of verticals and oxers, depending on the level of horse and rider. Start with three strides between the A and B element and the B and C element. Focus on straightness and impulsion then add in the longitudinal work from exercise 2 by changing the distance between the elements to 4 strides and even 5 strides. The goal is to progress to doing a different number of strides between the A and B element and the B and C element. As in previous exercises to achieve this goal the horse must be balanced, straight and adjustable. All this is done to make sure the horse light and balanced before continuing on to course work. This can also be done using cavalettis.
7) Figure 8 over 2 jumps Place a vertical and an oxer on opposing diagonals, so that they may be jumped in a figure 8 pattern. Keeping straight and balanced with a rhythmical canter repeat without a lot of pulling up. Repeat in the opposite figure 8 pattern.
8) Simple coursework Building on all the previous exercises, now it’s time to begin simple course work. The in and out can be set at 23’ – 26’ or alternately it can made as a two-stride with a distance of 34’-37’. Impulsion, balance and straightness are the key to a good course. Increase the level of difficulty by changing the number of strides in the line.
9) Combining course work with gymnastics. Combining the jumping exercise into a course, with gymnastics is a great exercise both physically and mentally for riders. I don’t love a ton of structured gymnastics where the jumps and strides do much of the work. I like to incorporate gymnastics into areas where the rider has to take control and manage their speed, impulsion and track to navigate them. This also begins to test your further your horse rideablity and mirrors many of the test riders will face in the competition arena. This can be set for riders all of levels from 2’ 6” to 4’ 9”. The rider must be in charge of stride, line and balance for a successful course. Jumps 1-3 are exercise 6 – three Jumps in a straight line; 4 and 5 are cavalettis set on a curve to be cantered, trot into 6a set as a cross rail into a gymnastics line of a one stride to two or three strides; jumps 7 and 8 are two jumps on a figure 8 followed by 9, 10, 11 and 12 , four jumps on a bending line testing the riders ability to manage their track or line.
10) The Test Now it’s time to put everything together over a real world course. Riders should be asked to learn the course on their own, develop a strategy based on what they have learned in the previous exercises and then execute their plan. Remember balance, impulsion, straightness and rhythm are the keys to your success.