I think pole work can be an easily missed exercise when it comes to training our horses, they’re bit of a faff to put out and set up and let’s face it there not as fun as jumping! However since being on this strengthening journey with Bumble I’ve really learnt the importance of poles.
Pole work can do a number of things for your horse, the reasons why I am using them is to build up core strength and stability, to improve his suppleness and top line and to encourage him to use his quarters and step under with his hind legs. They can also help with pace, with a horse that rushes, pole work can be a great way to help set them up and make them think about their feet, making their stride length and rhythm more consistent. Because pole work requires more precision it is great for balance, steering and control. You can also use them for both lengthening and collection, by either widening or shortening the pole distance
My 5 go to pole exercises:
#1 This is the most simple one that I am sure most of you will have done, and that’s trot poles in a straight line. I will simply get Bumble to trot down these a few times each way until he gets into a nice consistent rhythm. I will then add one of my cavalettis or pottys under alternate sides to raise the pole and repeat, this just encourages even more flexion in the hind leg. I will then do the same to the other side and repeat. Next to make a little trickier I will raise some poles higher than others, at this point some horses are so used to doing them they can do it without even trying this just makes them have to think and concentrate a little more and is really good for that bum!
#2 This is the same set up as above but set out on a fan/curve shape. To get a good curve you can use one corner of the school. On this fan you can again raise ends or all of the poles depending on your horse’s level, they will find this one harder. Try to keep the horse stepping over the middle of each pole and no falling in or out, do this properly and it will really help supple your horse. If you horse is confident and balanced through the curve you can step it up and started taking the inside line for collection and the outside for lengthening.
#3 This is the maze, its poles laid out to make channels and right angles, 6 poles laid out in two connecting C shapes. It’s so your horse has to walk between poles, turn on himself to come back through. This exercise is great for core stability and encourages your horse to step up and across with their hind leg as they make the turn. Some horses, like bumble will find this really difficult so it’s best to start on the ground and give guidance, eventually you want your horse to walk through the maze unaided in a good even rhythm, making the turns easily.
#4 The nest, the nest is basically lots of poles laid at all angles some wide some narrow in a bi nest shape, you then can walk your horse to this at angle or direction. The idea of this is to really get the horse thinking about where they’re putting their feet, it engages the brain, but also has great results for the core and their balance. To make this a little harder, some poles can be raised, but only do this if your horse is confident with the simple nest.
#5 Bounces, I count bounces as pole work, and I love them! There is nothing better to really get your horse to sit and use their behind. It teaches your horse to be sharp with their shoulders, to snap up with their front feet but they also the need to propel with their behind to make the next bounce. These can be ridden either on a straight line or for a horse that’s more mature or balanced they can be ridden on a curve. Not only are they a great gymnastics exercise they are useful for rhythm and pace too, a horse will learn not to rush down them or they will really struggle.
Remember although poles look really simple some horses can find them difficult, only ask your horse to do what he/she is capable off, pushing or rushing the horse can make them lose confidence in pole work.