Do you find yourself shying away from using ground poles in your riding because you think they are ‘only for jumping’? Perhaps you know all the benefits of using ground poles, but are completely unsure about how to use them effectively?
Many riders want to include ground poles in their schooling, but are unsure about how to get started in a way that is safe for both them and their horse.
This blog post is Part 2 of the initial Using Ground Poles in Schooling post which you can read HERE. The first post contains more detailed instructions on how to get started with ground poles for the first time. I strongly suggest you pop over and have a read of it, before you jump into the exercises mentioned in this post.
Building up to a Number of Trotting Poles
Once both you and your horse feel comfortable riding over a single pole, you can begin to expand the number of poles. This is where you can add more poles to build a line of trotting poles.
Start with 1 extra pole, and then 2, and then 3 and then 4 and so on and so forth. The poles should be a comfortable distance for your horse and this is generally around 4’6″ or 1.35m apart from each other.
I suggest that when trotting over a set of trotting poles for the first time rather get off your horses back into the light seat, so he can use his back more.
However it is important to note that you must not shift all your weight forward onto his withers or front end… He has to lift those to clear the poles! There is a full description of how to successfully do this HERE and HERE
So assuming that you are nicely balanced and allowing your horse to use himself over the poles, you will probably find that your horse will easily navigate 2 or 3 poles in a row. Sometimes he might misjudge and get the striding wrong, but allowing him the space to figure it out is vitally important.
Introducing Additional Poles
I suggest only adding a fourth or fifth pole once he can confidently navigate the three poles. This is because he may have to make minor adjustments through the poles in order to successfully navigate the exercise. Allowing him to think for himself through the more basic exercises will enable him to confidently make adjustments where necessary.
This is why your balanced, independent seat is vitally important. Remaining balanced and poised rather than bouncing around on his back will enable him to focus on using himself correctly through the poles… Rather than trying to get out from under your backside hammering away on his back
Later, as you both of your strenght and balance increased, you will find it easier to move with and follow your horses ‘exaggerated’ movement through the poles. When this happens you can actually begin to navigate the poles in rising trot, or posting.
In fact, eventually you may even be able to stay in sitting trot as you move through the poles, but this will require a truly independent seat and a strong, balanced, developed horse.
Raised Trotting Poles or Caveletti
When both you and your horse feel confident and comfortable working through the trotting poles, you can begin to introduce raised trotting poles or caveletti to the schooling session.
Raised poles are great for teaching horses to go straight, keep regular tempo and introduce more suspension, which means they have to use themselves more.
That raised suspension is also superb at allowing you, the rider, to experience that extra energy underneath you and begin focusing your riding on being able to move with the energy, rather than bouncing against it.
This exercise also encourages your horse to really use his back. It also can contribute to greater development of the topline, more flex in joints as the legs must be raised or lifted higher to get through the sequence and also, more thinking and responsiveness from your horse.
However… This will require a much greater effort from your horse, so don’t over do. Asking too much can result in the muscles can becoming strained rather than strengthened.
It is also worth keeping in mind that this exercise will also require more effort from you, the rider! Keep the weight dropped into your heel and keep your shoulders square and chest opened. Make sure your hands are soft and following and that you are allowing your horse to move both his head and neck, but also to use his back.
Try not to fall backwards behind the movement while riding over the poles. Make sure you are using your body to carry yourself. I often suggest pinching some mane or a neck-strap if it is the first venture for a rider over the raised poles.
Use the same trotting poles that you are comfortably working through and begin by raising alternatives sides on each of the poles in the sequence. The poles are only raised by 3 or 4 inches.
I find that raising just one side, lets say the left side, of the first pole, and then the right side of the second pole and so on, builds a ‘funnel’ which you can also use to encourage straightness in your horse through the sequence. Later, once you are both comfortable, you can also raise both sides of each pole if you want.
Start initially with raising 1 and then build up from there. You may need to shorten the distance between poles initially ( again inch by inch) as often horses don’t have the necessary strength and co-ordination to both maintain the stride and lift their legs higher to clear the poles. But you will feel this as you go.
Progress Must be Slow & Steady
Don’t stress your horse.. All changes must be gradually done to ensure your horse is confident and happy in his ability. You also want to ensure that he continues to use himself correctly through the exercise. Often if he begins to tire, the quality of the work will lower and mistakes will be made.
You may find your horse will try to run through the poles, as he feels uncomfortable and not so confident with this new exercise. If this happens, take things back a step or two.
Slow and steady will build both of your confidence. It is also important to use your half halt throughout. Let him realise that it is better to wait, engage his back end and then power through slowly and concisely, rather than rushing forward.
But again, if you sense any anxiety or nervousness on your horses part, take things back a step or two to where he is comfortable and ask again from there.
Ground Poles in Canter
Ground poles can also be used in the canter. Once again, it is important that you focus on where you are going, rather than looking down. It is also important to work over the pole in a simple light seat.
Focus on establishing a rhythm and then maintaining the tempo and balance while working over the poles in the canter.
I suggest setting up a 20m circle with 4 poles at each of the quarter markers of the circle. If the circle was a clock the poles would be at 12,3,6 and9 o’clock. Choose 1 pole to start over initially, bypassing the others as you complete each circuit of the circle in canter.
Pay attention that your horse is balanced both over the pole and throughout the circle, using his hind quarters and keeping a consistent tempo in the canter all the way through.
Lack of balance will result in changes to the tempo or rhythm. Loss of balance may also result in flying changes or breaking back into trot.
Focus also on your position that you are moving with him and asking for the bend to the inside without leaning or tipping your body. Keep in mind that your horse will be able to better navigate the poles if you remain balanced and quiet in the saddle.
As he becomes better at just the 1 pole, introduce a second pole – the one directly opposite the first one ( the 6 for the 12 or the 9 for the 3 on a clock). Pay attention to reaching the centre of all the poles when you reach them on every circuit you ride.
Adding more poles to your circle
As both of your confidence increases, you can introduce the 3rd pole and work up including all 4 poles in your circle. However, this may take some time to build up to and rather get 1 pole correct before moving on.
For a second exercise in the canter, I suggest building the cantering equivalent of trotting poles. Again, begin with just 2 poles, about 3.3m apart and then make any minor adjustments to the distance to suit what your horse is comfortable with.
Once you are both happy over 2 poles, begin adding additional poles in a straight line and you can also begin to raise the poles, again alternating the sides between each following pole to create a funnel of sorts through the poles for your horse to canter through.
As always, try not to pull or interfere and pay close attention to being as light in the saddle as possible. Allow your hose to figure it out!
Imagine every canter pole is a jump and ride it accordingly, which is a super exercise without the stresses of actually jumping. Fine tune your riding and your horses going bit by bit, pole by pole without jumping the legs off your horse.
Regardless of how you begin to incorporate ground poles into your riding, remember to try and finish on a good note. It is also worth repeating that when your horse becomes tired – stop. Working a tired horse, mentally or physically, over poles is a recipe for disaster.
Slow and steady is the way to proceed in order to build both of your strenght, balance and confidence.
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