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Is there ever a time when gymnastics will not help?

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  • Is there ever a time when gymnastics will not help?

    I was just thinking about this after my jump lesson the other day. My OTTB gets quite tense on the flat and that translates to his jumping. He is not challenged by the novice height we are jumping, but he is not using his back on the flat or over fences as well as he should be. My trainer who found him (and Ishi, who recognized his talent) thinks he could do the upper levels.

    Whenever we have a jump lesson, we are always working on cantering little courses or series of fences. Whenever I ask her about doing some gymnastics, she says they would be counter-productive for him because we know he's athletic. She thinks gymnastics would only make him quicker, and he would fly through, only moving his feet out of the way. It is basically true. But, the trainer I had before whom I still work with on the flat is very big on gymnastics. I know they are great for me to practice my position. She insists that they will make him more athletic and teach him to think for himself. I am definitely a believer in gymnastics.

    I guess I'm just looking for opinions. I occasionally work with my dressage trainer over fences (the one mentioned above. Used to event in England, not anymore). I think my guy needs to learn how to do these things, even if we will never see them in competition. He may get by on talent and athleticism now, but I think if he does go on up the levels, it would be fun to be able to do some more complex grids. He needs to be challenged.

    I'm having trouble setting things up on my own though, because he does get quick. I've done double bounces and I know low, wide oxers will help him use his back more. I've got Wofford's book that I've used with my ex-advanced packer. So, any advice or opinions would be helpful. Do you use gymnastics a lot? Never?

    Check out my blog at http://lindsayberreth.com

  • #2
    I think there are always times when the WRONG gymnastic won't help. The hard thing about gymnastics is that matching the right gymnastic with the right issue takes knowledge and a good bit of creativity. Developing atheticism while certainly one possible benefit hardly scratches the surface of the advantages of using them. Personally I love the mental development they encourage. I find that quickness is a wonderful issue to address with gymnastics. Sometimes with a particularly athletic horse giving them a mental problem to solve is exactly what will encourage them to slow down.

    So while I suppose it is possible there are times gymnastics won't help I really haven't ever come across that time! My inability to be smart enough? Yes, but that's my failing not the gymnastics.

    Since gymnastics are the core of my jumping program I'd have a hard time with a trainer that didn't want/or wasn't very creative with them.


    • #3
      The only time, I'd say, is if the horse will. never. be. a. jumper. I.e. no matter what you do, he is crashing through and just doesn't have "it" for jumping.

      Your horse sounds like he needs them.

      I would do exercises that encourage him to slow down, like putting scary things under (so he'll do that micro-second hesitation); like having a landing rail, or even a set of landing rails; canter poles in between (or even cavaletti); options (like a gymnastic that starts straight and then you can choose which direction) etc.

      Have you done exercises to slow his mind down on the flat? Like cantering a circle in 2-point on a loopy rein, and working on staying in the same rhythm, first by itself, then as you take and release contact, then as you go from 2-point to 3-point and back? Then circling around a jump, then occasionally adding the jump into your circle?

      I would also try putting take-off and landing poles for single fences - get him thinking a bit more about where he's landing, and encourage a rounder jump from him.

      Good luck.

      You never know what kind of obsessive compulsive crazy person you are until another person imitates your behaviour at a three-day. --Gry2Yng


      • #4
        Completely agree with subk and Blugal. There's a gymnastic out there for almost any problem (except fundamental inability to leave the ground, LOL).

        Like subk said, use exercises that will challenge him to think, so he *can't* rush too much. Placing rails, landing rails will encourage him to look down, place his feet, and not focus on getoverthejumpquick! It also allows YOU to leave him alone...often a tense horse needs the rider to let go, which is tough when you're trying to steer through a course or single jumps. Just because the horse is athletic/talented isn't a really good reason to skip gymnastics-- tuning up jumping style/form isn't the sole purpose of the exercise. Teaching the horse to solve problems is also very important. Many confirmed upper level horses do low gymnastics and lots of ground poles to get their focus off the jump, settle and use themselves.
        “A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it.”
        ? Albert Einstein



        • #5
          When a horse has undiagnosed EPSM, a gymnastic will only serve to frustrate and frighten him to death and put his rider in the dirt.

          Ask me how I know. Ask Woff too, I landed at HIS feet.
          Proud and achy member of the Eventing Grannies clique.


          • #6
            I feel that all horses can benefit from gymnastics, especially one that gets quick.
            But first rule out any problems : EPSM...good thought...I hadn't thoght about that! and soreness in the hocks or stifles can get a horse rushing to "get it over with."

            I knew a woman who bought a horse that had done some novice, but she was a fearful rider who took lessons but did not ride at home, did not do her homework, and when reprimanded by one trainer after another for letting her horse stand around for a week or more between lessons, she blamed the horse's former trainer for his tenseness and rushing. She found a trainer who would agree with her, the trainer took the bit out of the horse's mouth, had her order an expensive hackamore/bit combo through the trainer, and had her leave the 14 year old horse at the barn for "training". The trainer told her the horse did not need gymnastics, (it bolted with the owner after every fence) and after several years of this, the owner gave the horse away.

            Just a scenario: not suggesting those are the problems with your horse. I would stick with a trainer who wants you to do gymnastics with this horse, but the exercises do need to be adjusted to make him have to look and get careful, once you are sure he is not sore somewhere.
            Not all veterinarians will look at the whole picture, but a vet who is a fan of chiropractic work will be able to help.
            What would you try if you knew you would not fail?


            • Original Poster

              Thanks for the thoughts. I do use a placing pole at the beginning and in the middle of one stride gymnastics (if I'm trotting in). But it really doesn't help slow him down. It just makes sure he gets the one stride evenly. Hadn't thought about a landing pole.

              I do make sure to have days where I only trot to jumps with or without placing poles to literally and mentally slow everything down. He is just a hot horse in general and has had no soundness issues so far (knock on wood).

              Check out my blog at http://lindsayberreth.com


              • #8
                I love the right gymnastics for my horse that can get quick. They make him sit back and use himself. Love Wofford's books for lots of ideas.


                • #9
                  some assorted exercises tips

                  To use his back more on the flat - spiral circles help build the roundness. Also a horse cannot go round without relaxation.

                  Figure eight before your first fence, several times if you need to to stop the rush.

                  Set a line of fences with enough distance between them so that you can circle before jumping the next fence. Linda Allen uses this for hunters. Stay real calm and use that 'slow circle' to knock the horse back down on it's pace, and keep a pace doing it. Repeat it over and over until the horse goes - oh dear (sigh) I'm not going anywhere.

                  Always stay back in your seat and hang your weight there and down the back of your leg, keep your shoulders back, don't ever get ahead of the horse, slow your body rhythm a lot. Practice making him come back to your rhythm, no pulling with the hands, just your seat. Use turns and bending. Reverse turns back to the rail.

                  My daughter has a very quick little OTTB mare! I thought about breeding her to a contesting Quarter horse, yikes it would be a nice baby for the right use.

                  I just had a girl come ride this mare and she couldn't sit the canter departs!! Her leg then flew all over the place. I had her do 2 point to get into her leg (horse still rushing - oh boy! 2 pt - where's the fence ) then when she got solid I had her sit down and circle using her eyes and her shoulders to turn with a relaxed open inside rein, keeping the outside rein. The horse slowed and relaxed immediately, going round and soft. The girl grinned from ear to ear, she could feel the easy connection and the soft round lightness. Circling with a relaxed inside rein helps. And a solid lower leg on the horse for support. The horse needs the comfort, a swinging leg (which means a bad seat too and no true connection) upsets a sensitive quick horse.

                  Do let us know what works for you as you find your answers.
                  Last edited by pony grandma; Oct. 3, 2009, 01:21 PM. Reason: answer to your question - NOPE
                  Don't let anyone tell you that your ideas or dreams are foolish. There is a millionaire walking around who invented the pool noodle.


                  • #10
                    wow....wonder why your trainer thinks gymastics are counter productive to an athletic horse. Sorry...but there are many many many athletic super jumping horses who benefit from gymanstics. Hell..DeNemethy system of training with gymanstic jumping was develop for training and developing olympic horses.

                    I don't think I've ever had a jumping lesson that didn't include a gymanstic exercise of some sort....not all gymanstics is jumping a straight grid trotting in....

                    but it is setting the right exercise...and giving your horse the right ride...that is the key to getting the most out of gymnastic exercises.

                    And tense OTTBs are no exception.....
                    ** Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~Winston Churchill? **


                    • #11
                      I've found that gymnastics make athletic horses think because they can't use just talent to get them through it. I have an Irish mare who was going prelim when I bought her but had clearly never been taught trotting poles! She got very worried when she couldn't take the fence exactly the way she wanted (ie too fast and flat). I've done TONS of trot/collected canter gymnastics with her and now she doesn't rely on speed and momentum but instead she can balance herself and read the question accurately.
                      My two favorites for rushing horses:
                      x-oxer-x (thanks Denny): small (18") xrail, 18' to oxer, 18' to small xrail. Keep widening and raising the oxer but keep the distances at 18'. Come into it in trot or collected canter. The horse can't use speed, they have to coil back onto their hocks. If he bounces it, halt quietly in a straight line and repeat it, coming in slow and patient. You can use a false groundline under the oxer with more advanced horses, which helps them rock back even more.

                      Double bounce--one stride to oxer (low-wide is my favorite) one stride to double bounce: This gets them to compress, reach, then compress again. With a real speed demon I'll place landing or placing poles in the one strides. Double bounces are much harder to fly thru than single ones. You can come in from trot or canter. I do 9-10' between bounces and 18-20' for the one strides.
                      Have fun!