I’m a fan of gridwork. Poles are your friend. I never really see a reason to practice “height” with horses until they have a solid foundation on their groundwork, flatwork, and polework. Even with my upper level mounts, I always make sure I do more of these types of exercises than just jumping huge fences for the heck of it. Finesse is difficult to maintain over fences.
Anyone can gallop like a maniac down to a four foot fence, but to do it in balance? With a responsive and supple horse? One that is rocked back on its haunches and has its attention to you? That’s the hard part.
I like this exercise for a few reasons:
It is easy to set up.
Can be done at walk, trot, canter, and with small cavalettis. In other words, you can increase or decrease the difficulty easily depending on your aims.
You don’t need to drill it for an hour straight. A few times through each way, and the mission is accomplished. Gives you and your horse a lot to think about.
It highlights your straightness and control of your horse’s shoulders BIG TIME.
The theory is simple. Maintain a supple, bent horse through a series of either 1-strides or bounces.
Start with poles on the ground, increase to cavalettis, piles of poles, or small raised fences. I do not recommend these fences getting over 2’6” in height. Remember, height is not the intention here. We are aiming for suppleness, obedience, and correct bend.
Start at a walk with just poles on the ground. Then move to a trot with poles on the ground. Then move to a canter with poles on the ground so your horse understands the exercise. Be sure you are switching directions frequently and perform the exercise equally from either side. After utilizing just ground poles, move on to either a pile of poles, or cavalettis. Then, move onto small fences.
Be sure you have a firm connection with your outside rein, create bend with your inside leg and an opening inside rein if needed at first. Maintain a quiet 3-point position, and keep weight in your outside seat bone. Remember, the bend is created by the inside aids—the circle is drawn with the outside aids.
In the exercise below, I have used the average take-off measurement of 6’, the average landing measurement of 6’, and the average stride length of 12’. You may need to adjust your exercise according to your horse’s stride length and capabilities.