How often do you incorporate cavaletti in your rides?

I’m looking for a benchmark for what’s appropriate after a conversation with my trainer that left me worried I’m overdoing it. I ride my horse six days per week for thirty minutes at a time. We have a regular twenty-minute warm up routine that he can do on autopilot. For the last ten minutes, we canter cavaletti that I set up differently every day and we practice counting strides and adjusting to bigger and smaller canters. Neither of us works up a sweat. The cavaletti are set about eight inches off the ground. On Saturdays, we jump full courses of eight jumps set between 18” and 2 feet, but otherwise it’s the same routine every day.

Anyway, during a lesson, my trainer had us do something over cavaletti and we kept screwing it up. I told her I’d work on it every day that week. She just offhandedly said that I should be alternating flat work and not doing these exercises daily so I’m not jumping the sh*t out of him. I should have clarified with her then, but I had never thought of 8” cavaletti as jumping. I didn’t want to say anything at that point because I was embarrassed, and obviously I can’t change the past, but we’ve been drilling over cavaletti almost every day for six months. It never occurred to me that it was racking up wear and tear. Of course I switched to ground poles after this conversation, but my horse finds them so unremarkable, he just trips or shuffles over them. I feel like we aren’t getting the same value out of the exercises—and between that, and my own guilty conscience—I guess I’m looking for an outside POV on how frequently I can use the cavaletti. Is my trainer being too conservative? On a scale of 1-10, how irresponsible was I being? Not that it’s productive, but I’ve been ruminating all week in my guilt. Maybe it’s a catholic thing.

I don’t think cavalettis are a wear and tear problem. You can stop feeling guilty :slight_smile:

But, I do think it sounds like you need to spice up your riding routine. It sounds like you do the same thing every day which isn’t ideal no matter what that routine consists of. I would try to incorporate some different flatwork instead of doing the same warm up every day. You might find that with some different exercises you can fill a whole 30 - 40 minute ride with just flatwork.


I have this crackpot idea that if we rehearse the same warm up, it’ll be relaxing and kind of hypnotic to go through the motions off-property at shows. We’ve never shown though, so I can’t claim I’ve tested it out :sweat_smile: I never considered whether it might be boring as sin tbh, I thought of it like choreographing a little dance.

The beauty of cavaletti is that it doesn’t involve any wear and tear on your horse, so I agree with @OnDeck that you shouldn’t fret there. But the other great thing about cavaletti is that it can take so many different forms! If you’re just using cavaletti to canter lines, your routine could use a bit of diversity. From simple trot poles (yes, if he’s tripping and shuffling you have work to do on the flat!) to cantering full courses of poles or setting up tiny bounces, you can really do so much more.


How old is your horse, what does he know how to do, and what do you do with him? 18"-2’ courses suggests green rider or green horse, and my answer will differ depending on which of you is learning. :slight_smile:

I think doing the same basic thing every day creates a horse who only knows how to do one basic thing, and is a recipe for him getting sour at that thing. So, yes, in that sense, I think that you’re doing too much too often. You sound like you’re exercising for 20 minutes and practicing for 10, but you’re practicing the same thing every time. Practicing the same thing every time is called “drilling” and it’s not so good for horse nor human!

If your horse is green, he does need to learn to pick up his feet over a rail on the ground, and probably more importantly, he needs to learn to carry his body such that he CAN do this. So: rails interspersed with cavaletti for self-carriage and hind end work would be great here. I would not do this every day, as you’ll overwork the muscles you’re trying to build, but once or twice a week of bounce rails at trot or canter will help the horse. Rails, cavaletti, and jumps are all schooling exercises that develop a particular set of muscles and a particular group of techniques (think about how running, high knees, and skipping down the sidewalk are all cardio exercises but use different muscle groups.) So while you’re probably not jumping his legs off by doing cavaletti every day, this is a more challenging physical exercise than a rail on the ground, and you want to develop your horse’s body with consideration and use both types of exercise in your schooling.

If you are the one who is learning, your trainer can give you guidance here on exercises that you can practice on your own to help build on what you do in lessons.

Go for a trail ride tomorrow. You won’t have to worry about cavaletti and your horse’s mind will be the better for it. :slight_smile:


Thanks for your response. I’m the green one in the equation. He’s seventeen and a schoolmaster. He’s still in great shape, but probably a little arthritic. He tends to end rides feeling looser and more energetic than we start, so I feel like a good warm up routine is essential to get him loose and limber before asking him to think too hard. I know we could use more variety, but I will say the consistency helps me remember to get him on both sides equally. When I get creative, I also get forgetful! I have this exercise app that I wish existed for horses. It’s just a bare-bones core training circuit with a Siri voice that counts reps and calls out when to switch and mixes up the routine every day. If I had the ear of an app developer, I’d ask for one like that for riding, because, ffs, I cannot be trusted to keep straight what I’ve done and what I haven’t done.

oh, also, I don’t want to sound like the ultimate wet blanket. we do start every morning with a trail ride around the property to check water troughs. It might not be that exciting because it’s the same route every day, but there are always different chickens, geese, and squirrels to gawk at. And then we do some creative putzing around the farm after the thirty minutes in the ring to cool down. I actually think we’d crush it in competitive trail!

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Ask your trainer what you’ve asked us here. She is the one who knows you and your horse best. :slight_smile:

That said, I don’t see the good of doing the same thing over and over and over every day for 5 days a week for 6 months. Can’t you break it up a little? Go for a hack one day, hit the trail one day, try a little dressage one day … give your horse something to think about.

NB: I am not a trainer and even though I have stayed at several Holiday Inn Express hotels, those ads are probably too old to be pertinent here. lol

I don’t think you have to own the Equisense device to use the app. The app has a variety of exercises including flat and poles/cavaletti. It could help you come up with an exercise for the day.

I think if you want to jump that it’s great you are working on your eye and how to adjust the canter. And I think you are doing it in a way that is low risk versus jumping more. But you are also conditioning him in a very specific way, and a good way to avoid injury is to change things up to create different stress loads on the body.

So maybe one day instead of cavaletti, work on transitions. Canter 6 strides, trot 6 strides, repeat. Or lengthening and shortening of stride. Or counter canter. Or drop your stirrups for a few minutes. Trot poles instead of canter poles. Set up your line of poles and do a transition in between them. Trot in, halt, trot out. Or some other combo. And it’s probably ok if you do this for longer than 10 minutes. Do your 20 min warmup then another 20-25 minutes of a few different exercises. (including walk breaks). But maybe if you do that a couple of times one week, give an extra day off, or substitute in a walk day if he’s arthritic.

I would say that anything you could describe as drilling (your word) means it’s too much. So let that be your guidance. While drilling is often a human thing we like to do to try to perfect something, do not drill your horse. While you may have to work through a problem on any give day, know when to stop. The time to stop is when it’s better, not when it’s perfect. Leave perfect for a time where excellent is your starting point for the day. And don’t go looking for the problem the next day.


That’s why I asked- this does change my response!

Your wiser companion does not need to do raised rails every day. While this is good practice for you, cavaletti are a more difficult question for the hocks and the hind end than ground rails, and as he gets older you’ll want to look for ways you can practice and develop your education while also reducing the impact on his body.

You can do the same exercises that you are doing over cavaletti over rails on the ground, and it will develop your eye the same way without asking his hocks to engage and push quite to that degree. If he just clomps around and whacks the ground rails, then you actually need to ask him to engage a little more from back to front in the canter so that he lifts himself rather than relying on the raised rail to lift him- ask your trainer if she thinks that that would be good homework for you, and if so, if she can recommend exercises that you can do on your own, since she knows your level and your horse’s needs. (This will also be useful in developing your transitions within the gait.) Other ways you can develop the combination of your eye and his responsiveness to your leg include trotting and cantering X strides between focal points, like fence posts in the arena or from standard to standard; and doing transitions within the gaits, like ten steps of strong trot, ten steps of working trot, ten steps of slow trot sitting, ten steps of working trot, and so on.

You are doing the right thing by giving your horse a good long warm-up, and I especially like that you start with a good loosening-up walk around the property before you get under way in the ring. When we are learning, we often want to practice the same things until we feel excellent at them, but your horse is already excellent and the degree of repetition it sounds like you’re doing in your warm-up will bore him and cause him to anticipate the next movement. You can balance your needs by thinking about different ways that you can ask your horse the same physical questions in your warm-up. Like - do you supple his body with left bend and right bend by doing a circle each way? What about mixing it up with a serpentine of 3 or 4 loops, repeated twice across the ring so you finish where you started? Ideally, your warm-up prepares the muscles that the horse is about to use in his exercises: for instance, if your practice for the day is to lengthen and shorten the trot and canter, once you’ve done your regular serpentine at the working gait, you keep the same track next time but ride transitions between each loop. That way, you’re still helping his body get limber, but his mind stays fresh and looking towards the next exercise. By the way, serpentines are one of my favorite ways to make sure I’m suppling both sides evenly. If you map out the space in your ring correctly, and you ride it down the ring and back, you naturally have done the same exercise both ways.

I’m glad to hear that you have what sounds like great opportunities to get out of the ring and see new sights! I’m a firm believer in doing as much, or more, outside of the ring as you do inside of it, and it sounds like you’re doing that. You can make these productive suppling outings too- you use the same aids to lengthen the walk between fields as you do to lengthen the canter between fences!


Thank you for your advice! I’m going to make a point of switching to ground poles. Really they just take a little more leg to get him to pay attention to, but I bet he would get it after a couple days. He is a sharp guy. They are easier to set up too, so there’s that.

I do think he has issues with his hocks. When we do flying lead changes, he is almost always late behind. The only way I’ve been able to practice clean lead changes is over raised cavalleti. My trainer can get him to swap cleanly over a single ground pole, but I haven’t been able to. He’s on a glucosamine chondroitin supplement and I was just eyeing devil’s claw at the tack store today (kind of seemed iffy to me, but if anyone’s had good experiences, I’m interested). I asked about HA injections a couple months ago but my trainer recommended waiting. Anyway, the irony is I thought the cavaletti would help his hocks by building up supporting muscle.

Our warm up does involve trot serpentines toward the end. I really enjoy them. I think our warm up incorporates a lot of good things—both for getting muscles working, suppling, and improving my position and feel—but maybe the issue is I need to change around the order of things.

When I talked to my trainer, she said equitation is my stronger point right now, and I should be working on finding better paths to jumps to put together smoother courses. Her assessment was I set up a good rhythm, but I cut corners, jump at sharp angles, and don’t use space well. It’s like drivers ed all over again :frowning: So that’s why I do all the cavaletti courses. I just want to put eight jumps together and have it look easy. You would think practicing every day I’d have it down, and I’ve definitely gotten much better, but I always surprise myself with how flustered and disorganized I can get when things don’t go according to plan (ie, landing on the wrong lead, or drifting to the gate, or losing the canter going away from the gate…any permutation of these things and more).

Devil’s Claw is not horse-show legal, if that’s a concern for you. Having used it, I think your money would be better spent on an oral HA supplement or, even better, Adequan or Legend. Yes - the cavaletti will help to build up his muscles, but you have to be careful not to overdo it. Just like how it’s best for humans to do strength day, cardio day, stretch day, etc. at the gym instead of blowing out sprints every day. :slight_smile:

Your second paragraph made me smile because I’m currently helping my mom, a re-rider after a multi-decade break who’s getting back into the swing of things on my horse. My guy is a 25-year-old schoolmaster, so I know a thing or two about older horses feeling a little grouchy about their hocks. :slight_smile: She is also spending a lot of time working on her track and her pace, and every time we practice, I set her up a little course of ground rails! One thing that helps her, and that might help you, is adding visual aids to your little courses- think “pass the standard and then turn,” or “at this flower box start to set up for the lead change.” If you have the leisure time to do it, walking your pole courses on foot can help you find these visual reference points. Make that part of your course and rehearse it: instead of telling yourself “outside line to the diagonal line,” say “outside line, four straight strides, balance up for a lead change, canter all the way through the short side, pass the gate, then start looking for the diagonal line…” Repeat the plan to yourself a few times. If you practice rehearsing all the steps in your mind before you start, your brain will be better prepared to execute the whole plan. Four strides, lead change, four strides, turn comes up very quickly when you expected the inside lead and now you have to ask for something- but if you prepare to think about your lead and make time in your head to set up for a lead change, you will have planned to make use of those eight strides.

Thank you again for this advice! I went back to look more closely at videos of us and, to be honest, I’m wondering if our issues with getting a good track to the jumps might have to do more with straightness than poor judgment for reference points. Not to say I’m above having poor judgment! But sometimes we get like a string with too much slack on each end. We wobble or bow out. And it can mean I have the same number of strides in a line, but end up at a different take off spot, or I try to set up a nice, round turn but lose power in the canter and get crooked. I lose steering in turns especially and it can make my track a little awkward and unpredictable—at least, that is my diagnosis looking at video of us. I know this has gone off-course vs my original post, but would you mind critiquing a video of a recent ride? I think this shows off my horse but also highlights my problems with courses. Again, as a caveat, I’m inexperienced, but I would appreciate your perspective as food for thought!

Here is the first half:

Here is the second half:

First off, don’t worry about how often you do it. Maybe some days you only do one or two when your horse loses interest in the flatwork. Other days do lines or practice your rollbacks. Mix it up to keep him engaged. I’m interested to see how your horse is if you incorporate cavalettis and ground poles (does he still get lazy about the poles if you set a “course” with both?) I think that what your trainer is trying to say is that you shouldn’t rely on the cavalettis to properly balance your horse. Take the feeling that you have when you do them and try to emulate it on the flat.

Figure it out through experimenting, but don’t feel guilty!

Every day is not an issue but how many times you work through it might be. Cavaletti are meant to be ridden through only 3-4 times each direction (give or take) per exercise because they are very hard on the horse physically.

I could see the trainer being concerned if you are doing ten reps each way in just the warm up. But a few times each day is if anything beneficial.


Personally, I would not be doing small jumps that often with a 17 year old. I think twice a week is plenty, generally speaking.

Looking at your videos, I think you would benefit much more by putting that time into improving the quality of your horses canter, and getting better control of his body (i.e. straightness).

For the first, I would be looking at some joint support for your horse. He seems absolutely lovely, but is 17 and likely could use some support for his hocks. Arthritis is common at that age, and is an inflammatory condition - I don’t see much point in waiting, but certainly consult your vet and explore your options. That and some good flatwork will likely improve the quality of the canter.

That same good quality flatwork will help with the rest. One of the downsides, in my experience, of focusing much on caveletti, or even poles, is that we can get so focused on them that we forget about our corners and turns and keeping the importance of the corners and keeping the horse straight, which are so actually putting together a good course. Work on your geometry and controlling your horses shoulder and haunches - get deep in the corners without losing your outside shoulder, practice square corners, practice turning down the centre line/quarter line, practice riding serpentines of varying sizes all while keeping appropriate bend and rhythm. At the end of the day, those are the sorts of thing that are going to help you improve. If you haven’t done these sorts of things, maybe talk to your trainer about a lesson or two focussing on these details so you can practice under her sharp eye.


Every horse is different but I did cavaletti 1 day a week and a jump lesson 1 day a week on my 19 yr old lease horse. Very sprightly but with the hock changes one would expect. Other days we might do a light 20 min hack, a tougher 40 min school, fitness day for me (no stirrups), fitness day for him, trail ride, gallop around the field, free lunge in the arena, etc. It’s important to keep their work diverse and mentally stimulating!

I’d ask about injections again - for a 17 year old schoolmaster still in work 6 days a week I really consider them standard maintenance, unless the horse is exceptionally sound/was started late/etc. You might be very surprised at how different he feels a few days after injections! And if he doesn’t feel better - now you know and can revisit the idea again in a year or when you/your vet feel he need them.

Thank you, yes, I wonder of my trainer was hesitant about injections because she was thinking steroids and not HA. I’m not experienced with either but could see steroids having more potential for complications. I’ll do more homework on it.

Oh and I’m trying a chiropractor for the first time this week. I’ll try to be there when she comes and pick her brain. Everyone’s told me really good things about her, I was a skeptic but I’m looking forward to it.

Even though the obstacles you go over in your video are tiny, I wouldn’t call them cavaletti. My horse jumps things through standards in a different way than he does the traditional white cavaletti. And then cantering poles is different from jumping crossrails, no matter how tiny the crossrails might be. At home we sometimes jump 12 inch boxes on the ground with flowers all over them and no standards. Most of our horses snort and look and jump them like a 2.6 vertical. What I mean is, height isn’t everything. I agree with those above, jumping of any sort twice weekly is plenty for an old-timer I’d say. I jump my 9 year old 3ft. hunter max twice weekly, 2ft./2.6 one day and 2.9 the other at home to save him for shows. The other days we do a ton of transitions, especially on the center and quarter lines, lots of collecting and extending, etc. Good luck, such a cute horse!