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Ponderings of an Equestrian Professional

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Poles and Pods

Why do we use poles with our horses?

In her book 'POSTURE and PERFORMANCE: Principles of Training Horses from the Anatomical Perspective' Gillian Higgins says "Pole work is useful for horses from all disciplines and it's benefits should never be underestimated."

I have used trot and canter poles through all my training for BHS Qualifications, and more recently I have discovered the value of walk poles.

This video clip which I took of Gillian Higgins presentation at the BHS Convention at Hartpury this year show a horse walking over raised walk poles, which are great for developing the horses back rotation, lateral flexion, strength and control (Higgins & Martin 2015). For the rider, walk poles give a clear feel of the hindlegs moving independently, which cannot be felt in trot or canter when the legs are moving in at least 1 diagonal pair.

Trot poles help the horse to develop core and abdominal strength, back stability, momentum, power and spring. (Higgins & Martin 2015)

a line of 5 blue and whitet trot poles in a straihjt line
Straight line of trot poles

Trot poles help the rider to develop balance and an independent seat, if I am using a straight line of trot poles I like to get the rider to try to take up a light seat, no weight on the saddle, but balancing through their knees, ankles and stirrups. This is a really good test of the lower leg position, as if it is in the correct position balancing is fairly easy.

Although trot poles are a very good exercise for both horse and rider I find that many horses get bored, and possibly excitable when I use a straightforward layout like these blue and white ones pictured. It is because of this that I try to vary the pole layouts I use.

Pole layout with 4 poles making a box, and 2 poles on opposite sides making triangles with the points on the centre line.
A pole layout for straightness on the centre line & an accurate halt.

The layout above is great for improving straight riding on the centre line. It can be ridden in walk, trot or canter, with the extra challenge of halting in the box.

The thing I love most about running pole work clinics is that I am always learning new uses for pole layouts. The layout below was a variation on the straightness layout, but I found it really useful for guiding a rider through the dressage movement that requires a half 20m circle from A to X, then a half 20m circle from X to C, sometimes with a trot walk trot, or canter trot canter, transitions over X.

Come along and join us at Lacock Riding School, where we are dry & out of the wind in the indoor arena to see what else we can use poles for to help improve your dressage scores.

If you can't get to Lacock but know of another indoor arena I might be able to use message me and I'll see what we can arrange.

If you want to learn more about how your horse works check out Gillian Higgins Horses Inside Out site and the books she has written.

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