Cross Training the Dressage Horse


SDCTA Member Contributions



The goal of cross-training is to create a happy, healthy horse that remains willing to work.  For a dressage horse, arena work requires constant obedience and submission.  The same movements schooled day after day are physically exhausting and place the horse at a greater risk of injury from repetitive motion.  Not to mention it’s boring doing the same thing every day!  If you want your horse to have a better attitude about work, then give him a reason to look forward to it.  Not only does cross-training make work more interesting, but it also increases bone and muscle strength while providing mental stimulation.  Using different muscles required for the various riding disciplines will advance your horse’s body awareness and overall fitness.  By increasing your horse’s strength and aerobic fitness, you can help improve your horse’s performance over long show weekends.

Ground poles can be incorporated into your warmup or used throughout a schooling session to encourage your horse to engage and pick up his feet.  Ground poles placed 2-2.5’ apart in the corner of the arena can be used to lengthen or shorten the walk depending on what part of the pole the horse walks over.  Adjust the stride or clip the pole.  They could also be used to school walk-canter transitions for a horse that rushes the transition.  By strategically asking for the transition before a string of ground poles, the horse is required to focus on the ground poles for a few steps before the walk-canter transition.  By incorporating small jumps into training, you can improve your horse’s coordination and balance.  Jumping will also help you to gain confidence and develop a better seat.  


Endurance riding is beneficial for increasing bone density and strengthening tendons and ligaments.  Long Slow Distance is the key to proper conditioning.  Swimming is great for building muscle without stressing the joints.  We are all lucky enough to live within driving distance of the Skyway Bridge, where it is free to ride on the beach.  Trail riding is mentally stimulating and also easy on the joints.  Trail riding over uneven terrain can help a horse that tends to stumble in the arena.  Trail obstacle, similar to mounted police training, puts horses in real-world situations to build trust and confidence.  Trail riding and trail obstacle are both excellent for desensitizing – making the horse braver and less spooky. 


Horses that have variety in their work are more likely to have a better attitude about work.  Here is a list of events in April if you are interested in breaking out of the sandbox.  Contact Rachel Quires at (813) 335-1950 for more information about any of these events planned for April.

April 13 – Trail obstacle challenge at Pasco Horsemens Association in Hudson (Prize money for amateur and open riders; You can lead the horse through the course or choose to ride)

April 13 – SDCTA schooling show at Soaring Eagle in Odessa (Playing in the sandbox in exchange for ribbons – had to add this one!)

April 14 – Trail ride with Suncoast Trail Riders of Florida at Seranova off Hwy 52 in Hudson (casual trail ride with a great group of riders and a potluck lunch)

April 20 – Jumper Jackpot at Pasco Horsemens Association in Hudson (Casual H/J fun show where you can win prize money for flat classes, equitation, and jump classes at all heights)  **Bring the kids, Joan!**

April 27 – Trail ride with Suncoast Trail Riders of Florida at Shangri-La in Ocala (This place is beautiful!  Last time I was there, they were filming America on Horseback)