The benefits of polework apply to all disciplines. Whether you’re into dressage, showjumping, tackling cross-country courses or hacking, working with poles on the ground can make the world of difference to you and your horse because there are so many different ways to use them.
Polework is a great way to warm up for jumping, but it can be a session in itself, too. Poles can help you to improve your horse’s proprioception (awareness of his body), rhythm, straightness and adjustability, which together will help you establish a consistent canter – important in every discipline, but particularly when you’re jumping.
What’s especially good with many polework exercises is that the poles do the work for you – he’ll learn where to put his feet directly from the poles. And when it comes to jumping, these exercises will put him in the right position to take off, so that you don’t have to worry about setting him up in the right place and you can let your horse get on with it. All you have to do is get him there and focus on your own position.
Exercise one – Trotting poles
Set out five trotting poles on the centre line 1.2–1.5m apart – I would suggest starting at 1.3m and asking a friend to help you make them longer or shorter from there, depending on your horse’s stride length. You can set them out anywhere, but putting them on the centre line means you can practise on both reins.
Establish an even trot and, keeping the same rhythm, ride down over the poles aiming for the centre. Plan your turn so that you ride a few straight strides before you reach the poles. Use your shoulders to direct your horse, keep a steady contact with your outside rein and maintain your outside leg to make sure he doesn’t fall out around the turn. When you’re riding straight, look up and ahead, keeping an even pressure with your legs to encourage him forward into your hands.
As you reach the poles, give slightly with your hands so he can stretch his neck. Keep your seat still and your leg on, and let him work it out for himself. When you reach the end of the poles, imagine you have a bit further to go and ride straight for a few more strides.
If your horse knocks one of the poles, don’t worry – ask a friend on the ground to put it back. However, if he’s consistently knocking the poles, check that they’re the right distance for him. Ride the trotting poles on both reins and practise turning both ways after the poles, too.
To read Pippa’s other polework exercises, get your copy of November Horse&Rider, on sale from 22 September