An important reminder for all equestrians – Do your f*ckin footwork


An important reminder for all equestrians – Do your f*ckin footwork

Picture this: you’re riding your brand new upper level prospect in a clinic. This thing has brains, scope and talent out the wazoo (whatever that is) and he’s dripping with good breeding from every perfectly conformed limb on his body. Then the clinician sets up a line of canter poles to warm up over, and your bright and shining star is all “um, what is dis?”

Someone needs do some f**ing footwork.

Footwork should be a critical and ongoing step in your horse’s training. It includes but isn’t necessarily limited to:

  • cavaletti work
  • grid work
  • terrain questions outside of the arena

There are countless different combinations in which you can use any of it, and provided it’s done correctly, it all pays off. In fact, your horse’s agility, fitness, safety, confidence and overall education can all benefit from footwork in the following ways:

  • It improves the horse’s ability and confidence to get us out of a tight spot: If you’re anything like me, you might miss a distance every now and then. (At one point in my life, George Morris pointed a terrifying finger at me and referred to me as a member of the three blind mice) Sometimes we need to float the reins, grab mane, and pray to anyone who’s listening to get us out of trouble. If you’re financially blessed enough to ride a genetically engineered mutant who can do that without any practice, congratulations! Now stop relying on the universe’s good will and your horse’s scope button – you never know when either will run out – and help yourselves out with some footwork.


  • It can improve form over fences and in flatwork: If good coaching is the first step to improving your technique, good homework is the second. Plenty of experts have weighed in, and there’s an abundance of tried and true exercises available. Cavaletti, for example, can be part of your toolbox to improve your horse’s way of going by increasing muscle engagement and joint articulation. Incorporating bounces into your work helps horses develop better rhythm and carefulness over the fence. Whether you aim to improve your horse’s bascule over fences or develop your own technique as a rider, there’s something out there to help you do it!



  • It’s a good mental challenge and physical break from regular jump work: Winter weather has a tendency to leave us stuck in the indoor or otherwise relegated to the one half of the arena not frozen solid. Many exercises don’t take up much space, and although they can be as demanding as you make them, they’re generally not physically taxing on young or unfit horses. That’s why practicing footwork is a great way to mentally stimulate horses without putting too much wear and tear on their legs. It’s a great introduction for young horses, and more seasoned horses can generally benefit from a refresher as well.


  • It increases our horse’s surefootedness and balance: For eventing horses, hacking out is an integral part of life. It can also be a great chance to work on your horse’s foot work. Lucinda Green is famous (or perhaps more accurately, infamous) for asking riders to walk over fairly substantial cross country questions, but the obstacles don’t have to be huge to be beneficial. Think about allowing the horse to gently stretch through the shoulder, neck, pelvis and back as he reaches to step over a ditch or down a bank, for example. Letting your horse navigate hills, terrain, banks and ditches at slower gaits means he’ll be that much more confident about them when he meets them in gallop stride. If you don’t have access to a cross country course for hacking, use what you’ve got on the trails.


Regardless of how you approach it, footwork can be a very useful tool for engaging horses’ minds and bodies no matter where they are in their training. A few general suggestions:

  1. Let repetition teach and settle the horse, but don’t drill them to death.
  2. Take your time and keep your sense of humor handy. When the green beans flub it up, it’s okay to laugh (and put it on instagram so we can laugh at-er, with-you too!)
  3. Have a knowledgeable friend or coach around to double check your distances and to reset poles if you need.
  4. Start small and few. You can always add more challenge throughout the ride once your horse understands what you are asking.
  5. Use low level technical work as the perfect opportunity to hone in on your own technique/equitation flaws.


There’s a plethora of exercises out there to play with. Get creative, run a google search for ideas, check out the gridwork ideas offered by books and magazines, and make a note of helpful exercises that your coach or clinician sets up for you. Do your damn dressage. And do your f*ckin’ footwork!

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