As riders, we know that training a horse involves a delicate balance of communication, trust-building, and physical conditioning. And, over the years, I have become more and more convinced of the power of simple ground pole exercises to help horses and riders.
Whether they are ‘fancy’ poles or just straight-ish poles found in a forest or woods, these unassuming wooden bars can play a pivotal role in enhancing a horse’s agility, balance, and overall performance.
In this episode of the Daily Strides Podcast, we’ll explore the reasons why ground poles are so important, maybe even indispensable when you are working with and training your horse.
1. Enhancing Coordination and Balance:
Training with ground poles is a fantastic way to improve your horse’s coordination and balance. And whether you are asking your horse to walk, trot, or canter over the poles, the fact that he must carefully lift his legs and navigate the spaces between them is all the time asking different questions of your horse.
Having to consistently become more aware of his body and how he is using it while working over or through the poles, results in improved balance and coordination.
This is particularly crucial for young or inexperienced horses developing their motor skills. But equally as beneficial for older or more developed horses to help them develop further.
2. Developing Your Horse’s Core Strength
Did you know that just the simple act of lifting each leg over the ground pole requires your horse to engage his core muscles? This engagement strengthens your horse’s abdominal and back muscles. This is the very thing we want to happen to begin developing more ‘lightness’ when riding and working together.
This ability to engage is also essential for maintaining balance and executing precise movements later in his training.
And, as you probably know, a well-developed core not only contributes to a horse’s physical health but also translates into enhanced athletic performance. Something that, as the rider and trainer, you are most likely trying to achieve with your horse already.
3. Encouraging Adjustability in Stride Length
While this can be a little more advanced in terms of training levels, keep in mind that ground poles can be strategically placed to encourage your horse to adjust his stride length. And having this level of adjustability becomes really important if you are working towards or competing in disciplines like show jumping or dressage. In both cases, being able to predict and adjust stride length is crucial.
When you build regular ground pole exercises into your training program, you will begin to improve your horse’s flexibility and adaptability.
And this is useful no matter what your goals are for your partnership together. Even on the trail, being able to successfully adjust your horse’s length of stride makes the ride safer for both of you.
4. Developing the Gaits:
What does improving the rhythm look like? Really it means being able to ‘define’ the rhythm more. Ground poles are a great tool to help you begin to do this with your horse. When placed at intervals, they encourage a consistent and rhythmic pace.
This consistency not only contributes to your horse’s physical well-being but also helps you to develop more feel when it comes to riding each of the gaits as well.
Smooth, controlled gaits not only look better but are also essential when it comes to developing and training your horse.
5. Boosting Confidence and Trust:
Confidence is important. For horse and rider. When you begin to thoughtfully and creatively introduce your horse to ground poles, it really can help with developing his confidence. Confidence in you as his rider and trainer, and confidence in himself and his own abilities.
As your horse successfully navigates the poles, he will begin to feel more confident with these ‘wins’. He also will be more willing to answer future ‘questions’ from you as you progress in your training together.
I really do believe that confidence is a key factor in a horse’s willingness to tackle new challenges. It is so often overlooked. But without it, your horse will struggle to overcome obstacles both on the ground and under the saddle. Use ground poles to help him begin to believe that he can do all of the things you ask of him!
6a. Variety in Training:
Ohhh, this one is a biggie. Ground poles are so versatile and can be adapted to almost all training levels, skills, and development. This is also true for all disciplines. Keep in mind that you don’t just have to over them. You can also go through them.
For novice riders and horses, simple patterns and straight lines can be used to introduce the poles gradually. As your horse progresses, you can begin to become more imaginative with your layouts and designs!
More complex arrangements, such as grids and cavaletti exercises, can be incorporated to challenge and refine both of your skills. To ask ‘bigger’ questions. This adaptability makes ground poles one of the most important tools in your toolbox.
6b. Preventing Boredom and Monotony:
Keeping things fun and fresh can be a challenge for so many riders. Especially when working alone without a trainer or coach. And your horse, just like any other athlete, can become bored or disengaged with a monotonous training routine.
Ground poles provide a simple, effective, and often fun way of changing things up for both of you. Mentally and physically.
When you introduce new challenges to your training, it helps to keep your horse simulated and engaged, making the training process more enjoyable for both of you.
Training With Groundpoles
Whatever your goals are for you and your horse, ground poles are a great tool to introduce to your training with your horse. And whether you plan on using them for building strength, refining gaits, or instilling confidence, ground poles will become an essential part of your training program.
And again, they don’t have to be fancy… A few cut poles from a nearby forestry are perfect to get started with.
Experiment with lengths and thickness as well. Different poles ask different questions, so use what you can and see where it takes you and your horse this week.
I’ve got a free Groundpole Exercise HERE for you to use with your horse this week… Enjoy!