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Training For Gymkhana

Along with the increased interest in this sport has come more competition and the need for extensive training techniques so that both the horse and rider can achieve their best performance. Suggestions on starting a horse for Gymkhana were written by Gymkhana riders.

It seems that most riders starting in Gymkhana think they should ride as fast as possible to get the best time in an event. This is surely the wrong way to begin.

Ride at a speed suited to the horse or rider's ability at the time.
Starting Your Horse in Gymkhana:

It is very hard for a horse to know what to do when he hasn’t done something before. All he knows is that he is being asked to run as fast as he can, then his head is jerked around to turn a barrel or pole (and none of this makes sense to him), and then is asked to run again and come to a stop as fast as he can. If this is done very much, a horse will be spoiled in Gymkhana before he ever learns what it is all about.

The following suggestions on starting a horse for Gymkhana were written for the California Gymkhana Association (CGA) by Gymkhana riders:

  1. Warm up your horse by trotting or loping in large circles at least ten minutes before asking him for any major effort. This will help keep him settled and will reduce the probability of injury.

  2. Walk your horse through an event until your horse is relaxed with the pattern. Then practice him at a trot through the same course until he is at ease at this speed. As your horse is able to negotiate the event under complete control, increase the speed. If he starts having control problems in the event, slow him down a little. Remember, the key phrase is "Never go faster without complete control."

  3. When practicing, immediately after each lope or run in an event, walk the horse back through the event. If the horse is still nervous, walk him a second or third time.

  4. Practice figure eights and general turning without poles or barrels. This will teach a horse to listen for a rider’s commands. Also set up random poles and barrels. Ride past some and turn some in random patterns. This will help your horse learn to wait for your cue before turning an obstacle.

  5. If a horse starts to anticipate an event and is knocking down obstacles, practice him by reversing the way he usually turns. For instance, on Poles, run him the opposite way once in a while. Go back to practicing on random obstacles until your horse is listening for the turn cue.

  6. When stopping a horse after running an event, don’t jerk him down to a quick stop. Ask him to stop by saying "Whoa" and slow him down by turning him into a circle if necessary. It is important that you begin stopping him at about the same place after the finish line each time so that he will create a habit of stopping on his own, making it easier for him and safer for the rider.

  7. Before going into an arena to run an event, check your equipment. Make sure the cinch on the saddle is tight, the bit and curb strap are fitted properly, and the stirrup leathers are in good condition.

  8. Spurs are not generally used to make a horse run faster. Spurring when running will generally shorten the horse’s stride. However, spurs are very useful for moving a horse sideways. Spurs, correctly used, may help in events such as Poles I and II. Care should be taken to never cut or gouge your mount with spurs.

  9. Too much whipping, jerking or spurring will make a horse ‘gate sour’ and the horse may refuse to go into the arena.

  10. If you are going to be riding all day at a show, loosen your horse’s saddle and give him a rest between each event. Most horses use much more energy throughout the day carrying around their riders than they do competing in the arena. Dismounting is the best reward you can give your horse. Horses that are rewarded will want to run again.

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