Part 1: The Importance of Doing Pole Work Well.
Principles and strength training.
Trotting down a long line of poles laid out on an arena in a pretty pattern may look fun
(and it is), but remember to apply some basic principles to ensure your horse enjoys it too.
- Know why you are doing it; flexibility, strength, warm-up, cross training, to improve range of movement, to enhance rhythm, rehabilitation, to work on rider position ...
- Choose exercises that suit your goal. eg. raised walk poles to activate the hind legs and get the back swinging as a warm-up before training walk-to-canter transitions. Or trotting poles on a curve to help stretch and lengthen your horse's shorter side. If your horse has a specific issue talk to your Physiotherapist who can prescribe exercises suitable for your horse.
- Think about and monitor the number of reps and sets you do. Don't underestimate how strenuous pole work can be. When your horse is fatigued poor pattern sets in and continuing does more harm than good. Include rest breaks between sets, and only continue if your horse can do so with good form. Keep an eye out for them starting to bump the poles, or the hind legs getting wobbly, a bit like if you've had jelly legs at the gym.
- Simple is often better, make sure your horse understands the exercise and can perform it well, on multiple occasions. Repetition is the mother of all skills. Can you do it well several times, not just a fluke.
- Do in hand first before ridden, so you can watch your horse's body. During rehabilitation leading over poles can be a great bridge between rest and return to riding.
- Be progressive, but progress slowly and gradually to avoid loss of confidence. eg. Walk poles wide apart, then closer together then alternate steps, then raised at one end…
- Repeat the exercise, so horse learns, gains strength and co-ordination. 3-5 repetitions seems to be ideal for learning, strength and co-ordination.
- Strength training: make sure you can do 3 sets in each direction of this IIII before asking for 1 set of this I/I\I/I\I/I\I
if your horse can’t do 3 sets of this IIII maintaining good form then it is unlikely they will be able to show good form over this <I>I<I>I<I>
4 poles = 4 reps
3 sets of 4 = 12 efforts,
on left rein and right rein = 24 efforts.
- Spacing: hoof prints should roughly be in the middle, lots of guidelines else where on distance, but remember if your horse is not stepping nicely in between the poles don’t be afraid to play with adjusting them (rolling in or out) to suit your horse/pony and their current ability.
Key messages: Don't over face your horse and Monitor for fatigue.
a) I recommend the Ingrid and Reiner Klimke book for distances and set up of pole and cavalletti exercises. b) Over facing your horse with a multitude of poles benefits no one.
Part Two: Pole Work, Common Problems and Corrections coming soon.