Four Flatwork Exercises to Increase Rideability from Max Amaya

Max Amaya and Stella Wasserman - Photo: RandolphPR


Although my riders’ accomplishments in the show ring are important, I never underestimate the value of solid flatwork as the foundation that makes all the pieces come together in competition. At home, we don’t spend much time jumping big courses; we save that for the show ring. Instead, we find ways to practice rideability and adjustability without raising fence height and putting extra pressure on the horses’ bodies. These are a few exercises I rely on at home in order to keep the horses in shape mentally and physically. Poles and cavaletti are not too demanding, so we can use them daily to maintain rideability. 

1. Figure eight. I have one flatwork exercise I always turn to because it has the potential to be dynamic yet also simple. I set up two cavaletti on each long side of the arena, forming “lines” of five to seven strides, then I place one cavaletti at the midpoint of each short side and one right in the center of the ring. From an overhead perspective, it looks somewhat like a figure eight of cavaletti, though that’s not the way we typically ride it. 

I begin by sending the horse down each long side and adjusting its stride accordingly. I ride a comfortable number, then add one stride, maybe add two strides, then take one stride away, and let the horse really practice its adjustability in this line. 

Once the rideability on the straight line has been achieved, I begin to add in the bends and play with lengthening and shortening on a curve. This is where the exercise can be dynamic, and it prevents the horses from anticipating what’s coming. You can start on one long side, bend to the middle, ride to the opposite corner, bend to the end, and really take these cavaletti in a variety of directions, practicing lengthening and shortening the whole way around. You can get creative with it and practice your track and your horse’s ability to lengthen and cover the ground, then shorten its stride and come back to you.

2. Pinwheel. An exercise many of my equitation students practice quite often is Stacia Madden Klein’s favorite exercise, known as the pinwheel. It consists of four poles or cavaletti in a big circle. It can be set for three to three, four to four, or even six to six strides – there’s no set size. It helps the rider to practice tracking and measurement. If you ride the outside track, you may add a stride in each, but on the inside track, you’ll have one stride less. While it’s good practice, you don’t want to do this exercise too much because it’s hard work for the horses to maintain a tight circle.

3. Trot poles. I don’t incorporate trot poles frequently enough; they can be very helpful. When I have down time, I set three to four rails for the horses to trot through as we work. It’s a nice way of getting a horse coordinated and picking its feet up as well as helping the rider work on timing with the horse’s step. I use the trot poles throughout the ride with the goal of the horse’s steps staying consistent. 

4. Chutes. Straightness is often something a young horse struggles with, so to guide them I’ll set up chutes so they don’t drift to either side. Whether it’s cavaletti or poles on the ground, I’ll use ground rails as chutes to steer the horse straight after the effort. I don’t take the chutes away until the horse recognizes on its own that it should stay straight after it jumps unless directed otherwise.

Max Amaya training. Photo © Jump Media


Max Amaya is head trainer at Stonehenge Stables, a leading show jumping training program located in Colts Neck, NJ, and Wellington, FL. Amaya’s program is focused on building a strong riding foundation rooted in traditional equitation principles, leading to success across all levels. Amaya provides a range of training from short stirrup to grand prix, but one priority is always shared: the horses always come first. 

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