Grid work is something I’ve been doing a lot of this winter, and will continue throughout the season ahead, with everything from the babies just starting their career, right up to Louis (Chakiris Star) who will be back out at 5* level this year.
Grids are always good to use in the winter when the horses can be a bit fresh and to get them listening and thinking. You can also do them in any size arena.
I was training with Richard Waygood recently and we used a simple grid work exercise to help Louis shorten up and sit on his hind end more. (Video - Louis uses Vetroflex on a regular basis.)
Start off with a trotting pole 2.5 yards into a double of bounces. Start with the bounces as poles on the ground and gradually build them up. This is a great way to warm up and introduce the horses to grid work.
Once you’ve built the bounces up to a level you and the horse are comfortable with and 1 stride to an oxer. Again start the oxer small and build it up in height as you work through the exercise session.
I like this exercise as the horses really have to think about what they are doing with their legs and use their brain to adjust themselves between the fences.
Raised trotting poles are also another great exercise to get the horses using their backs and sitting on their hocks.
The simple ones always seem the most effective.
This exercise uses three or four poles on a 20m circle.
Place the poles on part of the circle, at the same distance you would place them on a straight line.
You want to make sure that the horse is bent around your inside leg correctly and that you stay central as you go through the poles.
It will help the horse to engage his hind leg more effectively.
Raised trotting poles is another way of encouraging hind end activity. To add an extra bit of difficulty I place a trotting pole at a ninety degree angle to the first raised pole, you want three or four in a line after that. Trot over the single pole and then ask the horse to bend onto the raised poles.
Both exercises will really help to develop the hind end and encourage more of an athletic and energetic hind end action
One exercise I use a lot just uses two canter poles. It is probably one of the most simple, yet effective exercises you can do. The ability to lengthen and shorten your horse’s stride is really important. Whether you are just starting out at Grassroots level or whether you are preparing for a 5* event, being able to alter the number of strides your horse is putting in can be a life saver.
Place two canter poles in a line, one towards each end of the arena. Don’t worry too much about the distance between them.
Start by establishing a normal working canter and canter over the centre of the first pole and aim for the centre of the second pole. Keep an even rhythm and count the number of strides between the two poles. Repeat the exercise to get the same number of strides. Here you are looking at maintaining the same even rhythm each time.
Once you have maintained the same number of strides each time you need to collect or shorten the canter to try and get one extra stride. Do lots of transitions before and after the poles to help the horse sit on their hind leg and shorten the canter.
Then you can look at lengthening the canter to get one stride less.
This exercise really helps you to practice riding the different gears in your canter.
Warm up with a longer, lower and more relaxed contact, this will encourage the horse to stretch over their back and will help with the engagement later on.
I like to use a serpentine on a relaxed contact to warm up, as this really helps to get them bending around the inside leg and places a focus on balance from the outset. It is important to keep the rhythm, and balance, through the turns and encourage the horse to bend around your inside leg. Keep the horse moving forward around the turns, but always keep balance in the forefront of your mind.
As the horse begins to warm up you can collect the contact. This will also help develop their serpentines in a more collected frame.
Transitions within each pace such as collecting and lengthening, are great to include in your warm up.
You only want to move the pace forward for a few strides and them bring them back under you. It is very important not to let them run on.
When asking them to lengthen and move forward it is important not to rush them and not let them go on the forehand. Don’t get too greedy with it, control the impulsion and just ask for a little bit at the time.
This is also a really good exercise to help develop the medium trot/canter in horses.
Developing a strong core and back in a horse is very important as this will enable them to carry themselves, and you, better and will allow them to engage their hind end more effectively. A strong core will help channel the power from the hind end and allow you to use it more effectively.
These exercises will also work for the dual purpose of helping to create more impulsion, and getting the horse a little more ‘switched on’.
Raised pole work can help strengthen their core muscles and will also help engage the hind end.
I use 6 trotting poles in a straight line that are placed 1.5 of my walk strides apart (about a yard but you can adjust depending on the size of horse).
Start with the poles on the ground to get the horse used to the poles being there and to help them read the distance between them. If riding a green or less experienced horse raise the poles a few at a time, until all are raised. You only need to raise them a couple of inches off the ground.
When working with the raised poles you are looking to pick the horse up a little more in front and I’d recommend using some half halts on the approach. You want to feel more cadence in the trot.
The raised poles will make the horse use their hind end more and will help develop the engagement. They will start to lift themselves through their core, strengthening their muscles and encouraging them to work more across their back.
You want to be feeling that the horse is starting to sit a little more on their hind end, almost like they are tucking their bottom underneath them.
As an advanced addition, add a pole at 90 degrees at either end of the line of poles. Turn in over the 90-degree pole, ensuring that the horse is bent around the inside leg. Curve onto the first few poles, then straight, and then you can curve out over the final 90-degree pole.