Work over ground poles is a great way to add interest to arena exercises, helping the rider to be precise in steering and adjusting the horse’s stride, while encouraging the horse to lift the legs and back as he steps over each pole.
Lately we’ve had fun with a few varieties of pole exercises.
For Frankie and Cava, we set up a line of canter poles. Frankie worked on going forward and straight enough to make it through the line of poles, followed by a transition back to trot in the short end of the arena, then back to canter to go through the poles again. This kept him under control, but encouraged him to go forward from the canter transition. For Cava, the exercise was a little more complicated. I rode her forward through the poles, then brought her back into a smaller canter through the short end and rode a 15 m circle, before pushing her back into the bigger canter. Sometimes I would throw in a trot or even walk transition, sometimes not, depending on how readily she was responding to my half halts to adjust the canter stride.
The next day we rearranged the poles so they marked off quarters of a 20 m circle. The circle could be ridden over the poles, outside the poles, or inside the poles, or spiraling in and out. We did it trot and canter.
The next day was still different. 3 poles were lined up on the center line, one at X, one between P and V, and one between R and S. We rode a serpentine around the poles, sometimes quarter line to quarter line, sometimes the full width of the arena, sometimes just wide enough to get around the poles. Then we added transitions on the center line. First they were easy, trot each loop and walk a few steps across the center line. Then we cantered the two end loops and trotted the center loop. Then we cantered one end loop, trotted the center loop, and walked the other end loop. Then we cantered the end loop, did a simple change and cantered the center loop, did another simple change and cantered the other end loop. It was really fun to come up with different combinations!
Using the poles not only kept the riders focused on the exercises, but added an element of fun that the horses really picked up on. As the horses became more enthusiastic and engaged in the work, they began to offer better gaits, quicker transitions, and the “What’s next?” type of focus that makes the horse a fun riding partner. After a long winter riding around the indoor, these types of exercises are the perfect way to get everyone engaged and excited!