Exercise: Cavalletti and Coursework

Preview this exercise from Justine Jarvis, one of many in the new book, Grid Pro Quo: 52 Powerful Jumping Exercises from the World’s Top Riders by Margaret Rizzo McKelvy.

This is a great exercise to help prepare any rider for the show ring. It can be a very mental challenge for riders, and successfully navigating this exercise often gives just the right confidence boost before showing.

Materials Needed
2 flower boxes, coops, or roll-tops

Try to set this up along the short side of your arena. 

Leave enough room between the obstacles and the rail that you can come off the rail in a rollback turn toward the jump. Keep in mind that the closer you stay to the rail, the harder your turn will be.

You can use most any filler for this exercise, whether it’s flower boxes or coops or rolltops. The key is to not use standards.


This is one of my favorite exercises to help prep riders for the show ring. Two single obstacles without standards—whether it be an 18-inch flower box or 3-foot roll-tops—on the short side of the arena is harder than anything most riders will see in competition. So if you’re able to tackle this bounce with success and confidence, you know that you’re capable of anything. 

I also like this exercise because it’s not very difficult for the horse, meaning that you can practice it quite a bit without worrying about undue stress on your horse’s legs. This is more of a mental challenge for riders than anything else. It’s absolutely perfect for riders who tend to get a little anxious and need to feel like they’ve accomplished something. 

While this exercise helps teach riders how to ride through a corner and keep their horse straight between their aids, more than anything else it teaches riders to “nerve up” and just do it. And while most riders strive for perfection, I encourage my students to allow themselves to make a mistake—as long as they learn from it on the other side of the mistake. 

While it’s nice to have an instructor on the ground, I want my riders to be able to think for themselves and self-critique their own riding. So if you’re working on your own, give yourself a moment after each time through the bounce to ask yourself: What went well? What could have been better? And how could you make it better?


Before you even head to your first jump, make sure your horse is listening and turning well. Maybe include some smaller circles and figure eights in your warm-up. And remember to keep your expectations in line with your horse’s abilities. My expectations from a green four-year-old are quite different than those from a seasoned campaigner. 

If you’ve never done a bounce, you wouldn’t want to start with this exercise. Instead, introduce your horse to bounces in a more traditional format with ground poles and standards, and gradually build it up. Make sure your horse knows what a bounce is before you present him with this “weird” bounce.

Once you are warmed up, start making your plan for your bounces. Remember that successful jumping rounds come from riding straight to your jumps out of good turns at a good pace. Sounds simple, right? But sometimes the simplest things can be the hardest.

When you’ve warmed up and have your plan, simply go directly to your bounces off a wide turn, and then off a short turn. With only two small jumps, there aren’t a lot of steps.

You can play with the distance between the jumps depending on your horse. When you need help slowing your horse down, shorten the distance and teach him the rhythm of the exercise before widening the distance again.

If your horse is ducking to the inside as you come through the turn, it’s likely you’re using too much inside rein and not enough inside leg. If your horse is running to the outside, it’s likely you’re tipping in and not using your outside aids effectively. As I said already, it’s okay to make mistakes, as long as you work to understand why they happened and fix them.

When you want to make this exercise harder, simply make the jumps bigger or narrower. I typically start with obstacles that are 8 feet wide, but you can challenge yourself by using more narrow jumps. 

Give yourself a pat on the back when you’ve completed this successfully. If you can turn across the ring and ride into this exercise, you’ll find anything at a horse show easy!

Grid Pro Quo is available from Trafalgar Square Books HorseandRiderBooks.com

Justine Jarvis of Highgarden Farm in Frederick, MD 

A lifelong horsewoman, Justine has been competing up and down the East Coast for over 30 years, including trips to Devon, Capital Challenge, Harrisburg, and Washington International Horse Show. With experience in the hunters, jumpers, and equitation rings, Justine’s program is well-rounded with students of all ages and levels. While based in Maryland, her team travels extensively and her students have picked up top finishes to earn them trips to Gittings Finals, MHSA Thoroughbred Invitational, Hunter Prix Finals, Devon, and Washington International Horse Show. 

Margaret Rizzo McKelvy


Margaret Rizzo McKelvy

Margaret Rizzo McKelvy boasts an extensive career in competitive equestrian sports with a focus on eventing. She has been lucky to ride with a number of accomplished instructors and believes that this has helped develop her into a well-rounded horsewoman. When McKelvy is not on horseback, she manages her own public relations, event planning, and business development service with a team of professional consultants. She and her husband reside in the Washington, DC, area.

*This story was originally published in the October/November 2022 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!

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