Polework can be a great way of improving your horse’s general way of going, as well as adding variety and fun to his work routine.
Although poles are not a substitute for correct and systematic schooling, they do make a very useful addition to your training armory.
Using poles to improve the horse’s walk
For dressage, a good walk is very important. If the 4-beat sequence is incorrect or unclear, your marks will be very low for each walk movement and for your horse’s paces too.
Walking over poles can help your horse to regain his coordination and go some way to recovering the correct 4-beat sequence and rhythm of the pace.
Space the poles at a distance that’s comfortable for your horse to walk over, and be sure to include them in your schooling sessions every time you walk.
Try making a downward transition to walk immediately before you arrive at the poles so that the horse picks up the correct rhythm straight away.
Place the poles on a straight line or on a curve, and use as many as you like; the more the better!
If you want to encourage your horse to lengthen or shorten his steps while keeping the correct rhythm, try adjusting the spacing between the poles.
Use the half-halt and the aids for collection or extension while you walk your horse over the poles to ensure that he associates the new length of step with the aids you’re giving him.
Using poles to improve the trot
Using poles in trot can be very effective at teaching the horse to lengthen his strides while staying in a rhythm.
Some horses who do not have a natural medium trot can learn to extend their strides in this way, especially when loose-schooled or lunged over poles.
Poles also encourage the horse to look down to gauge his footing. That causes him to round over his back, lifting the strides, and giving the way of going more fluency and expression.
You can leave the poles flat on the ground or raise them slightly at one end, or both, to make the exercise more difficult. Trotting over poles in this way can also help to increase activity and engagement.
Also, as the horse lifts his feet over the poles, he will be flexing his leg joints. For this reason, polework can be very therapeutic for horses with stiff joints or short, tight tendons and ligaments that restrict movement. Under veterinary/physio supervision, polework can be a very effective therapy when bringing horses back to work from leg injuries.
In trot work, always use even numbers of poles to be sure that your horse exercises each pair of legs equally.
Using poles to teach straightness
When teaching exercises such as rein-back, poles laid on the ground as guidelines can be very helpful in keeping the horse straight.
Poles set parallel to a fence or wall can be used to teach a young horse to stay straight in halt.
You can use poles to develop your horse’s lateral suppleness too by using them for bending around.
Using poles to help your accuracy
Poles can be used to help you ride accurate circles.
For example, riding a 15-meter circle can be challenging, but riding one within a framework of poles can highlight when your horse is drifting out and when you need to use more outside leg and rein.
Using poles to improve fitness and suppleness
Many horses enjoy jumping. Using grids of poles set up as small fences can be a brilliant way of building your horse’s muscle and fitness.
Try to include gymnastic jumping in your horse’s schooling regimen once every week.
If you don’t enjoy jumping yourself, try loose schooling instead.
Polework can be very useful in improving your horse’s way of going.
Poles can also be very effective in helping a horse to recover from injury and to gain fitness and suppleness too.
When using poles or jumps, always do so with an assistant. Horses can trip over poles, potentially falling, so never ride over poles or jumps when you’re alone.
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