Working with poles is not only great fun, it has many benefits for you and your horse, whatever discipline you enjoy. They can inject quality and energy into his paces, and they’ll encourage you to be more accurate and disciplined in your flatwork, too. And whether you’re going around them or over them, even the most basic polework exercises can lend structure and purpose to your schooling session.
Exercise: tramlines for better turns
Being able to ride an accurate turn is important for all aspects of your riding and your horse’s schooling, and is essential if you want to compete in dressage or jumping. Poles can help because they improve your ability to control your horse’s shoulders and they encourage him to bend around your inside leg. Here’s what to do…
- Create tramlines by placing two poles on the ground, 1.5m apart. You can put your tramlines anywhere there’s room to make a turn into them, such as down the centre line, across the centre of the school or on the diagonal.
- Go large in walk and, as you approach the point where you want to leave the track, ride a half-halt to prepare and balance your horse.
- Turn towards the tramlines, using your outside aids to guide your horse, rather than pulling him round with your inside rein. To do this, hold your outside rein against his neck and apply your outside leg just behind the girth. Back up these aids by opening your inside hand slightly to show him where you want him to go and placing your inside leg on the girth to create bend and stop him falling in.
- Once you’ve made the turn, maintain a contact with your outside leg and hand to straighten him up, then ride positively into and through the tramlines.
- When your horse understands the exercise in walk, you can have a go in trot and canter.
Track your progress
Poles are a handy way to measure how your horse’s training is progressing. If you use the same distances and ask him to do the same exercises on a regular basis – for example, once a week – you’ll be able to tell what he’s finding easier or identify any ways he’s trying to evade his work.
For more simple polework exercises to help you perfect turns and transitions, pick up the August issue of Horse&Rider, on sale 28 June.