Liven up your schooling sessions with pole work

With the springtime and lighter nights just around the corner, schooling is heading outside – pole work, lateral work or jump training.

With the chance not to wear our thick winter jackets and dig out the lightweights, most of us are looking forward to being able to hack out again and enjoy some warmer weather. In the meantime though, continue to make the most of your schooling sessions indoors or under lights and continue to add in some pole work to vary your horses routine. Selwood Equine have four fab exercises to keep you going this month!

Why Poles?

Pole work is not just for jumping, it has many benefits to your flatwork as well. It improves rhythm, balance and coordination. Plus it strengthens the horses hind quarters. When we ask the horse to work over poles correctly, we ask them to use their backs more effectively. To have greater bend and flexibility within their joints and develop suppleness and elasticity. By using their hindquarters and backs in a better way it allows them to be lighter in front and lift up from the forehand. It can also help the rider focus, improve timing, straightness and balance in the saddle.

The Fab 4: Our easy ‘pole work’ Exercises for Schooling

Check out the following four exercises for pole work in the school. These are great starter exercises and will have both you and your horse engaging your brains and producing some really productive work together!

1. Tick Tock around the Clock – a 20m Circle with 4 poles

Place four poles on the quarter points of the circle. Imagine where 12, 3, 6 and 9 would be on a clock face. Ride the circle incorporating all four poles making sure the horses shoulders and quarters do not fall in. Maintain your contact and your inside leg aid, whilst keeping central over the poles. This is helping to teach the horse to listen to your aids and ride forwards from the leg. It allows you to maintain a lightness in the hand. This can be built up and ridden in walk, trot and canter.

2. Raise the stakes – poles across the diagonal

It is always good to vary where you place your poles and coming away from the fence line means your horse has to be switched on to you as a rider. To listen to both your inside and outside aids, as well as you being on the ball too! Working in trot to begin with, set out either 3 or 5 poles spaced 4 1/2 feet apart. Raise alternate corners of the poles. Not too high off the ground though. You should be able to ride an active working trot over this distance using the corner of the school. Ride active half halts to help to engage and re-balance the horse before coming across the diagonal. Keep straight and rhythmical within the trot maintaining a consistent yet flexible contact to prevent the horse from rushing. Raising the poles asks your horse to lift and use himself from behind and over his back more in the pace. For canter poles, look to set a distance of around 9ft between poles.

3. Square up to it – poles in a set square

This is a very versatile exercise. Make a square over X in the centre of the school using four poles. You can ride over the exercise in walk, trot or canter. In walk you can practice making halt transitions over the poles. You can also build this up for your direct transitions; trot to halt and halt to trot. Also in trot you can ride circles over the corners of the square, riding four circles in total. Plus you can also ride across the diagonals of the square in trot and canter. This is great if your school is smaller in size too.

4. The push or hold – poles on a related distance

Using two poles set them out down the long side of the school on a related distance. You can ride this exercise in trot and canter. Start by riding over the poles on both reins in your working pace as you warm up. Then once fully warmed up, start by pushing for some lengthening of your strides between the poles. So you effectively ride less strides in between. By using the ‘push’ exercise to start you can really make sure your horse is moving forwards from behind and showing activity. Next you can move onto the ‘hold’ element of the exercise and ask for a shortening of stride and some collection so that you can fit more strides in than before. Count the strides out loud if it helps and see how riding transitions within the pace changes your stride count between the poles.

Take some time to set pole work exercises out to help alleviate boredom in the school and to keep both you and your horse focused during your schooling sessions.

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