Just like human athletes, your horse needs to be supple in order to perform the job well, so by incorporating pole work and grids into your training programme, you can not only help your horse develop better muscle tone and improve his athleticism and fitness, but also your body awareness & fitness too!
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Our Ambassador and international eventer Gemma Tattersall shares an exercise to improve your horse’s flexibility and suppleness riding Chico Bella.
“Grid work is a great way to improve both horse and rider, however you need to remember that it can be very tiring mentally for both horse and rider and physically challenging for the horse, so keep sessions short and sweet at first."
For the purpose of this exercise, we have created a grid where there are 5 fences all on a one-stride distance (eight of Gemma’s paces). There is a placing pole before the first fence, which is three paces in front of the fence.
Another view of the layout
This is what you are aiming to build for this exercise
Start with a placing pole, three paces to your first fence. Then eight paces to the second fence (and the third and the fourth etc.) but with the poles on the floor not, as fences. So, the first time you ride through the grid, you canter over the placing pole, jump over the first fence then canter over the next five fences, as poles on the floor.
Before you tackle the grid, you need to make sure that your horse is warmed up properly in walk, trot and canter on both reins. Once you have your horse’s muscles warmed up and he is on your aids, you can think about riding through the grid.
Here we can see clearly the poles on the floor during the early part of the exercise
You need to think about developing a rhythm through the grid and focus on maintaining softness throughout. Once you and your horse are confidently riding through the grid as it stands, you can then put the second fence up, then the third until you are jumping through the whole thing.
This is what you are aiming for as you continue to build the fences up
As with any new exercise, take plenty of breaks and keep it short and sweet and always stretch your horse down properly afterwards. This might be a suppleness exercise, but it’s a tough one!”
Bella showing her capability over the fence
Gemma Tattersall started riding at the age of 18 months (as her mother has a riding school), she proved to be a natural and by the time she was 8 years old, had won the riding club junior (U17) dressage championship and her first one-day event! Gemma's talents were spotted by the selectors, and she was chosen to be put on the lottery-funded 'World Class Development programme', which is a lottery funded training scheme aimed to support up and coming athletes who show potential as future Olympic candidates. The World Class Programme have been supporting Gemma ever since. Gemma progressed rapidly, campaigning successfully in pony trials and being selected to be part of the Junior British team. This was a stepping-stone to representing Great Britain at Young Rider level, which she did for 2 consecutive years, winning 2 team Gold medals.
Gemma continues to shine, with numerous wins and success including winning Under 25 National Champion in 2010, becoming the first ever woman to win an ERM and of course representing her country at the Rio Olympics.
Photos by David Miller