Whether you’re retraining an OTTB, wanting to tackle your first dressage test or looking to improve your horse’s fitness, we are huge advocates of adding polework into your weekly routine.
Pole exercises can help to maintain strength and suppleness in the older horse, encourage green horses to think for themselves and improve rider balance and accuracy. In short, we really like polework!
We’ve put together 3 of our favorite polework exercises that’ll help you improve your horse’s way of going no matter what your discipline. Helping with accuracy, impulsion, straightness, rhythm and rider balance, these exercises are perfect for those mid-week schooling sessions.
1. Best For…Perfecting Your Transitions
If your horse ‘falls’ into his transitions, this exercise can really help. It helps you to make your transitions short and snappy, while the serpentine element will improve suppleness and rider accuracy.
Green horses can find this exercise challenging. Your horse should be balanced enough to complete a 3-loop serpentine, and be familiar with walk, trot and canter poles.
Place a set of 4 walk poles on a slight curve at one end of the school. The middle of each pole should be 2.5ft from the middle of the next.
Across the middle of the school, set up a row of 4 trot poles. Each pole should be 4ft apart.
At the far end of the school, set up 3 canter poles. These should be placed on a slight curve, with the middle of each pole around 9 - 11ft away from the next.
How to Ride It
Warm your horse up as usual in walk, trot and canter. Go over the walk, trot and canter poles separately in each direction.
Begin your serpentine by walking over the 4 walk poles at the end of the school. Transition to trot just after the poles and complete the first loop of your serpentine, turning right into the middle of the school and trotting over the poles. After the trot poles, transition to the left-lead canter and complete another loop, coming over the canter poles. You have now completed your serpentine.
Focus on short, snappy transitions and an accurate serpentine.
Remember to complete this exercise in both directions! For an added challenge, you could start with the canter poles and end with the walk poles.
2. Best For…Learning To See (Or Feel!) A Distance
A lot of trainers will tell you that you don’t actually need to ‘look’ for a distance. Instead, it’s all about developing a feel.
This exercise uses just two poles and will help you to develop your feel for a good distance, while also improving your horse’s canter and adjustability.
Set up 2 poles, 5 working canter strides (between 65 and 73ft) apart down the long side of your school.
How to Ride It
Warm up your horse as usual in walk, trot and canter, then come to the first pole in working canter. Once over the first pole, continue down to the second. You should find you arrive at the second on an even 5 strides, provided you have the correct canter. Do this a couple of times in each direction, trying not to make any big adjustments in between the two poles.
You can then start playing with the number of strides in the middle, aiming to meet the second pole on 6 strides, then 7 or even 8. Depending on the experience level and balance of your horse, you could do this with as many strides as you like. You could also open up the canter to meet the second pole on 4 strides.
Try not to do too much in the middle of the poles. Instead, you should aim to arrive at the first pole in the correct canter. Come more collected if you are aiming to fit in more strides, and more open if you are wanting less.
This exercise will bring more bounce to your horse’s canter, but try not to disrupt the rhythm too much. Sit up, support with the leg and keep a consistent contact.
For more of a challenge, set up small jumps instead of the two poles.
3. Best For…Improving Accuracy On Circles
Do you find your horse tends to fall in or out on circles, especially on one rein in particular? This exercise can help to improve accuracy, bend and suppleness. It’s suitable for horses of most levels, and you only need 4 poles.
Place 4 poles in a clock pattern like the diagram above. The size of the circle does depend on your experience level, as well as that of your horse.
If you’ve got a more established horse, put the ends of the poles a little closer together. For a greener horse or rider, make the circle larger.
How to Ride It
Warm your horse up as usual, then start work on the clock face. To begin, simply ride a circle around the poles, then walk or trot over all the poles on the circle, aiming for the middle of each pole.
Make sure you go in both directions around the clock face, taking note of which way your horse finds harder. You may find your horse falls in on one rein, and out on the other!
When you’re ready, you can try the exercise in the canter. Unless you have a very balanced horse, aim for the outside of the poles so that your horse doesn’t have to canter too small a circle. Try to get the same number of canter strides between each pole on both reins.
Take this exercise up a notch by adding in transitions either just before or just after each pole. This will help make your transitions more snappy, and help your horse to develop more push from behind.
Want More Exercises Like These?
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Wanting a full on-demand lesson for your next schooling session? Try Ride iQ, free for 14 days, available on both iPhone and Android.
Love it or hate it, dressage is imperative. Putting scores aside, striving to build harmony with your horse will enhance all areas of training and competition. No matter what level a rider is, there is always room for improvement in the sport (or, let’s face it, the art) of dressage.
Ride iQ announces today that it has partnered with The Retired Racehorse Project (RRP), a nonprofit organization dedicated to facilitating placement of Thoroughbred ex-racehorses in second careers by increasing demand for them in equestrian sports and serving the farms, trainers, and organizations that transition them.