Top U.S. show jumping athlete Georgina Bloomberg has a string of talented grand prix horses in her barn at Gotham North based in North Salem, NY, and at Gotham South in Wellington, FL. While you may think she and trainer Jimmy Doyle work on intricate courses when schooling at home, they instead spend most of their time focused on small jumps and cavaletti exercises, especially when they’re working on perfecting bending lines.
Doyle, originally from Ireland, has trained Bloomberg for 17 years, guiding her as she rode on winning Nations’ Cup teams for the U.S., earned a team bronze medal at the 2015 Pan American Games, won numerous grand prix classes, and jumped in the 2018 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final.
“I find cavaletti and rails on the ground helpful to keep Georgina’s eye accurate and get the horses thinking and adjustable without over-jumping them,” said Doyle. “When we’re getting ready to go to a horse show, we’ll start with cavaletti and then move on to incorporate jumps in our exercise as well. It depends what the horse is aiming for and if they’ve shown recently, but usually every horse is doing cavaletti work twice a week or so.”
Cavaletti exercises are particularly useful when working on bending lines because they don’t require a significant amount of effort from the horse, but horses tend to back off and put in a jumping effort more than they would over a plain rail on the ground.
“If they hit a cavaletti, it makes them more careful,” Doyle said. “It’s a good exercise because it’s not hard on their body, but they’re still learning from it if they make a mistake.”
Stride adjustability is key to jumping clear rounds over technical grand prix courses, so the cavaletti work Doyle and Bloomberg do with the horses when schooling at home gives Bloomberg the tools to succeed when competing.
“It’s important to ride very accurate tracks between fences on course so that the horse has the best chance to jump clean and to save time,” said Bloomberg. “These exercises make the horses more balanced and adjustable in their stride and help keep my eye precise. That helps me jump more clean rounds.”
Set four cavaletti in a circle, with each cavaletti at 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock. We’re looking for a normal five-stride distance between each one, so walk off a bending line distance of 66′ to 68′ between each cavaletti. You’ll ride this exercise with a variety of striding.
“At least every few weeks, we try to do a clock of cavalettis and then have the horses do different numbers in between each cavaletti,” Doyle said.
First, ride the circle a few times in each direction on a normal stride, with five strides between each cavaletti. Focus on staying in the center of each cavaletti and not letting the horse drift out or fall in.
“Every horse is more comfortable to one side or the other, and this helps them be more even. If a horse falls in turning to the left, it’s good to have them learn to stay out on the outside part of the circle,” Doyle said.
When you and your horse are comfortable completing the clock exercise in five strides, start mixing up the striding.
“I’ll have Georgina ride the exercise adding a stride between each cavaletti, then practice fitting in six strides on the same track that she did five,” Doyle said. “We’ll even add another stride and do seven strides. We also work on leaving a stride out and doing four strides between each cavaletti. The key is to not change the track. You want to still jump from center to center of the cavaletti and adjust your stride length on the same track instead of cutting in or drifting out.”
When you’ve mastered adding and subtracting strides, try mixing it up to really test the adjustability of your horse’s stride. Ride from 12 to 3 on the clock in five strides, then from 3 to 6 in four strides, and back to five strides between 6 and 9, then four strides again from 9 to 12.
“Leaving strides out and adding them keeps the horses thinking and helps them become adjustable in their stride without over-jumping them,” Doyle said.
The key to this exercise is to keep the horse’s balance, not letting them drop their inside shoulder and fall into the center or pop their outside shoulder out and drift to the edge of the circle. An active inside leg, gentle guiding inside rein, and supportive outside rein are important to keeping the horse straight and balanced.
Next time: The ‘Choose a Line’ Exercise