Pole Work

Photos kindly provided by Kevin Bainbridge

The use of ground, or slightly raised, poles is an excellent way to improve the suppleness and strength of your horse.  It adds variety to the work and increases the range of movement expected in motion.  This in turn encourages the horse to use its core muscles, lift through the back and work correctly through to the contact.

The poles can be placed in a variety of patterns - straight, curved or serpentine lines - with virtually an unlimited number of permutations.  The only limits are those decided by the space you have to ride in and the number of poles available.  Some patterns are best for developing lateral suppleness, others for strength and cadence, or for balance and throughness.

In the future I hope to add downloadable templates for you to lay out your own patterns depending what you want to work on with your horse.  For the moment, when looking at the slide show above, see just how effective this work is for all horses and ponies.  Note in particular how much more activity there is in the hocks when working over a pole and some horses show a much lighter shoulder as well.

If you set out your own pole exercises it is strongly recommended that you have a helper on the ground.  Even the most balanced horse can accidentally move a pole - especially if it is raised - so you need someone to replace it as quickly as possible both for the continuation of the exercise and for safety.  If you are inexperienced in distances between poles please ask a professional or knowledgeable person for assistance as incorrect distances can be at best discouraging and at worst dangerous.

I LOVE Heather's polework sessions. They are a fab workout for horse and rider and always plenty to challenge you both physically and mentally.Julia Prior
My horse and I really enjoy Heather's pole clinics it helps me to focus and be more accurate, even if I sometimes make up my own pattern! My horse is quite tense but he loves poles, it helps him to work forwards, flex his hocks and work over his backLiz Harrison

This video demonstrates a figure of 8 movement using a serpentine curve each way.  This helps the horse to bend and flex, placing the inside hind leg further under the body.  The curved lines of poles mean there will always be the perfect distance between each pole for any horse... if the rider can place the horse correctly each time!  A good exercise to teach the rider how to turn the horse using correct inside flexion, but while using the outside aids to stop losing the outside shoulder.

The same two horses and riders and the same pole pattern.  This time we are using half circles over the curved lines of poles and then riding a straight line across the centre using a longer distance between poles to open up the trot stride.  The straight line can also be ridden in canter to make the exercise more challenging.  The half circles can be ridden towards the narrow end for a shorter, more collected trot stride or towards the wider end for longer steps. 

Some horses tend to rush pole work, so the riders should use plenty of half halts and almost get the trot slower than they think would be correct - this helps the horse to place the feet and create the lift necessary for a clean line.

This short video perfectly demonstrates the effect of raised poles!  Look at the effort, flexing of joints and height of steps performed by this little horse.  This type of work done frequently as part of a horse's routine greatly assists with the development of the trot.

If you're looking at this video and thinking that the pole raisers look like potties... you'd be right!  Cheap plastic potties make perfect pole holders and can even be stacked together for higher poles.  Beware of using pound shop potties however as they tend to be of a very brittle plastic - one knock and you'll have bits of sharp plastic in your arena.  These ones are a bit more durable but still much cheaper than custom made blocks.