Balance, awareness of feet, and a lengthened topline are qualities that lead to improved movement for any horse, whether a jumper, dressage competitor, or a trail horse.

Of course, there are many factors that contribute to movement, and many exercises we can do or adjustments we can make to improve it.

But there is one simple exercise that is used by riders of all levels, for all types of horses, that might help your horse too – cavaletti.

If you aren’t familiar with cavaletti, they are simply poles on the ground, and can be arranged in various patterns. Cavaletti may be used to develop a lengthened stride, better bending, coordination, balance and strength in the horse.

Cavaletti were said to be invented by Frederico Caprilli, who is also credited with inventing the “forward seat” for jumping, a big improvement on the old jumping style of the rider throwing oneself back on the horse over the jump.

Today, while cavaletti are used by all types of riders, their usefulness and flexibility as an exercise can still be overlooked.

In this video, I will share three cavaletti exercises I use often as well as two books that are good references for cavaletti work.

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Comments

49 Responses

  1. Thank you Callie…. I have a new 16 year old Grulla QH and I love her! She was used exclusively for country trails, so I’ve been introducing her to arena and City trails! Your videos are giving me the knowledge and confidence I need to move ahead with her

  2. Excellent teaching on getting started with cavaletti. I have done very little pole work in the past. Your explanations of how to set them up, and what can be accomplished by using them was straight forward and new perfect sense. I am eager to incorporate this for strengthening my mare an teaching her to have a rounder carriage.

  3. Hi Callie, that’s nice. We (the schoolhorse and I) did just that a few days ago; I liked it and the horse liked it too, I think. She was snorting.

  4. I’m going to try your suggestions. I have a mare who loves to trot in the arena, but doesn’t like to slow to a walk. I think some of these simple pole exercises will focus her more at the walk as well as increase her coordination.

    1. Doing lots of trot to walk transitions would be very beneficial for her as well!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  5. Hi Callie – enjoyed watching this vid as I’m doing lots of pole work at the moment. We’re working on getting my horse fit after a lengthy period off. At the moment the pole work is done in hand and I like the idea of random poles !

  6. I have used cavelleti with my Rocky Mountain Mare. She seemed to have a “disconnect“with her back legs when we first got her. She was only 4 yrs and just seemed not to know what her back legs were doing at times. The bars helped. Now I am thinking of using them with her because we are working on eliminating her pace. You talked about using them at a trot. What about gaited horses that don’t trot. My Rocky Mountain does seem to have a foxtrot but has trouble holding onto it. And I also have a Spotted Saddle Horse. Her gaits are walk, racking, canter. I’d like to use cavelleti with her to give her interesting things to do in the arena. She does not care for the arena – she was used as a trail horse – but we live in Buffalo, NY and the arena is now part of her life in the winter.

  7. Hi Callie,
    Great advice using cavaletti. I use them every time I ride in my arena. I have a Tenn. Walker who is diagnosed bilaterally lame on the rear with Suspensory Desmitis, and having him lift over the cavaletti, sidepass over them and weave around them is great for keeping him aware of where his feet are and how high he lifts those hind legs. This is about the extent of riding he can handle comfortably. My other horses enjoy the work as well to keep things from getting boring in the arena if a trail ride is not on the calendar that day.
    I always enjoy your videos and talents. Keep up the good work. Thank you.

  8. I use cavelleti polls almost every time I ride, but I am using them more to build my own balance as a beginner rider. I am working on keeping my horse’s pace consistent as we go over them, and they help me with my own body awareness as I shift my weight into a jump position. Daisy benefits from the work because she tends to ignore her hind end- the polls force her to be more aware of her feet and where she is placing them. Love your videos! They are so helpful:)

  9. I love your exercises as beginning routines– they are easy and fun and have helped my lazy footed quarter horse to pick up his feet and actually LOOK where he is setting them down. I had heard that where you focus your gaze, is where ge will set his feet. I never really thought that was true until these cavaletti exercises. I inadvertently was looking AT the poles and he was striking them. Then I started to look just 4-6 inches on the other side if the poles, and he was going through with no touches.
    It was a revelation and had changed where I look now. Not that looking at the ground is where our focus should be, but i have learned a valuable lesson here. THANKS

  10. Callie, you have wonderful explanations and exercises. Thank you for creating more informed and knowledgeable riders.

  11. I am also looking forward to this exercise. It is great to know different variations. And now I also understand the reason for using poles. Thanks, Lisa

  12. Hi Callie, I enjoyed the video. I use cavaletti’s for my horse, Hanna (Percheron/Spotted Saddle). She is a big mare and has trouble lifting her feet over the poles. She has gone over successfully several times but also seems to trip over them too often for my liking. She is sound and wants to work so we are struggling to find out why she keeps tripping. Your video was very helpful in that I will start placing the poles differently throughout the arena. Maybe that will help her to think about where she’s placing her feet. Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

    1. I think you will find that exercise helpful with Hanna! I am also wondering if maybe she couldn’t use a little more trot in approaching the poles – perhaps she doesn’t have enough forward? Just a thought Melody!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

    2. hello Callie…

      thank you for sharing..tried this with the arabian boy but he keeps also tripping over them ..any advise? his a generally beginner boy…not much worked under saddle.
      Regards,
      Tam

      1. Hi Tam! It may be that the poles are not space correctly or he coming through them at the wrong rhythm – meaning either too fast or too slow!

        -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  13. Hi Callie, I love working with cavaletti! I haven’t done a lot lately with my trainer. I started again after last Sunday’s show. My trainer set up a line and asked me to bend and follow a line and also use rollbacks to get me started on Jumping. My mare is very experienced but I’m a beginner.

  14. I’ve used cavaletti to strengthen weak stifles, help uncoordinated draft horses learn to canter and jump, and encourage relaxation and rhythm in a tense mare. I use ground poles and raised cavaletti in different heights. They are a great tool, I use them often. One can never have too many ground poles!

  15. Hi Callie a great video. I have just started doing cavaletti work with my horse. He is an OTTTB I am struggling to get him to lift his feet, he is rather lazy unless out galloping in the country but very slow and drags his feet when in the arena. Do you have any tips gor me to sort this problem out.

    Thanks Claire

    1. Claire, just a few thoughts for this. Has everything with him physically be evaluated? For example his joints and his back…How does his saddle fit? Typically we like to look at physical causes first. My next suggestion is having him go through the poles multiple times until you have the spacing comfortable for him and see if that makes a difference in him hitting the poles.

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

    1. Carol, you can use these in the same exercises with your gaited horse!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  16. Callie
    Thank you for sharing this video. I think this is the direction that I need to go in with my horse.

  17. Late in watching video but very helpful as when can not get out of pasture to ride this is a great exercise to use for keeping my horse sharp and alert. Thanks again for expanding my knowledge base to improve my horse and my riding skills.

    1. Yes definitely, TJ, this is great for mixing things up in the ring!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  18. Now I understand why the poles on the ground at my lessons and why my instructor has me working with them! As good for me as it is for the horse. Thank you!

  19. Great video as usual, Callie! Just wondering about how long before I can expect my gelding (19 year-old Arabian) to start really caring about his hooves bumping the poles. He was very green when I rescued him three years ago, and we have been working on many things. We used to have a few poles at the farm where I board, and I would put them out and sometimes he would touch them, or stumble, and sometimes not. If we do the exercises consistently, will he eventually get tired of bumping them and start to be more careful? I know every horse is different, but he doesn’t seem bothered by touching the poles or stumbling. Has he maybe not made the connection yet because we haven’t worked on it enough? Being an Arabian, he isn’t lazy, so just curious on your thoughts. Hope I explained this well enough….
    Thanks!

    1. If you keep going through the line of poles you will find that he will learn to pick his feet up and figure out his spacing. My only thought would be you may want to make sure everything is okay physically that he is having trouble with!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  20. Thank you Callie! I always enjoy your ideas!!! My horse and I actually did some Cavaletti’s yesterday both with me on the ground and riding. it was helpful with introducing something new and different for her and also helping her to watch her feet.

  21. You have given me some great ideas. Although I have used cavalettis I have never used the pickup stick idea. Great idea. My Morgan tends to have her head up and I am trying to round her out. You are such a wonderful teacher by explaining carefully why we need to do something, and how. I love your segments

    1. Sue, these exercises could definitely benefit your Morgan! I wonder what his history is? We have a Morgan in for training right now with a very similar movement pattern – he was a buggy horse for the Amish and had an ill-fitting saddle for a period of time which we think has contributed to that movement pattern.

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

      1. My new QH has short sewing machine footfall, and my Chiropractor thinks it came from her previous owners ill fitting saddle as well. Cavaletti will hopefully help my mare relax and stretch as well, hopefully.
        Patty N.

  22. My warmblood does groundpoles to strengthen stifles… usually straight series of 5 with raised cavelleti at #5. I have also made a square and done loops at the walk through the sqaure (like a 4 leaf clover). I had a fun eventing lesson where I cantered over a ground pole, went down to trot over 3 ground poles and cantered again (different lead) over another groundpole in a “S” sort of pattern; this pattern was to work on him not pulling over jumps in the canter. Thanks for the video… it helped to solidify why ground poles are used for other reasons.

  23. My riding instructor places ground poles to create patterns for me and my Arabian to trot over and around. It helps me with my balance because I’m constantly having to change his bend and my diagonal, and maintain rhythm. It’s much more interesting that just staying on a circle! Plus, it encourages my horse to pick up his draggy feet!

  24. Good excersises thanks Callie……….I use cavaletti quite a lot in my training. A fun way to teach flying changes also !

  25. Thank you for these exercises. I am using these with young riders and they are finding it challenging. I like to change up lessons and this has been interesting to watch.

  26. Interesting and useful information. Very timely as my TWH had a chiro appointment yesterday and the vet recommended ground poles to help him learn to manage his feet better for the trail since he is prone to stumbling. Cavaletti, she said, helps with flexing those hock and stifle joints which are sometimes a problem in gaited horses. During the session the vet also did muscle testing and found that he was low in calcium–which can affect muscle strength. There’s always so much to learn!

  27. I have been walking my horse over the 3 poles just in straight line. Poles are approx 4 feet apart. Only one time did he do this without clipping any of these. Should I wait to trot him over these until he can walk over them without clipping any?? I love watching your videos have watched them several times but always on YouTube so I have never left any comments. I finally went onto your website! Thank you!!

    1. Hi Pam, as long as they don’t have any physical problems I would recommend actually trotting over the poles to help him develop more muscles to help him get over the poles easier!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

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