A horse that is versatile can do a variety of things. It does not have to be
really good at every task. The horse may have one discipline that it
excels in but it is also able to do other types of activities. For example,
you may have a good trail horse and at the same time that horse is able
to work with cows and perhaps do some jumping. A trail horse needs to
be familiar with cows and you never know when you may need to jump
over an obstacle on the trail. The skills work together and that is where I
like to take the horses I work with.
I like to be able to broaden their horizons and make them more versatile.
This keeps their arena work from becoming boring as they get to do
many different things. Close to thirty years ago, a lot of the top trainers
were talking about cross training. Lynn Palm was doing western
dressage even back in those days. Western or cowboy dressage is
nothing new, it has just gotten very popular in the last few year. But
learning the principles of dressage can enhance the gymnastic abilities
and the trainability of a horse. The dressage principles include riding
balanced or having good equitation so that the rider is in harmony with
the horse and not interfering with the horse’s movement.
Another gymnastic aspect to consider is jumping. Most of the time we
think of jumping tall fences but most horses should be able to jump 18 to
24 inches. If the horse is comfortably trotting over cavelettis and is being
obedient, meaning the horse is quiet and paying attention, you can canter
over the caveletties or a grid of caveletties. This exercise allows the
horse to pick up his back. If you have a horse that is having a hard time
with lead changes, going over a caveletti or an 18 to 24 inch jump can
help. Ask for the lead change just before you go over, while the horse is
in stride or in the air, cue and switch as the horse meets the ground.
Trail riding is a great gymnastic exercise. Teaching a horse to go up and
down hill is of great benefit. Unfortunately, most riders do not
understand the principles of going up and down hill. I find that many
horses here for training short step going down hill because they don’t
feel comfortable going forward enough, in other words they are not
under themselves and stepping through. Once a horse learns to come
through going down hill, the horse is utilizing his entire body and not
just his front feet. A lot of riders let their horses trot up hill and this is a
mistake because the horses are pulling from the front end. Walking the
horse up allows the horse, again, to get under himself and push from the
There are many cross training things we can do to have a more versatile
horse. These exercises will make the horse gymnastically stronger and
more flexible. We have had some warm bloods and thoroughbreds here
that played with cows. It is surprising how some of them really kind of
take to it. It is a good experience for them and gives them another level
of emotions to work through.
We open up the spectrum of activities that are interesting for both riders
and horses. We play soccer in the arena with a large ball. It is good for
the horse’s mind and emotions. It is fun for the riders and many horses
really enjoy going after and moving the ball.
Versatility and cross training are great. The varied activities build a
horse that is more flexible and more emotionally sound and they are a lot