Previous polework exercises have focused on physical development, such as the Splat Poles, encouraging the horse to extend the frame in to a long and low position or The Clover, working on the extensor and flexor and lateral muscles, as well as encouraging ‘lift’ through the shoulders and hindquarters. Some exercises have been designed to focus on prioperception too, such as The Square.
But what about using poles to help train horses to keep steady and most importantly, us and them safe? I remember quite a few years ago when I was at college, I entered a show jumping competition on one of the college horses, a lovely liver chestnut ex eventer, called Shannon. He was my favourite and mostly as safe as houses on the flat, (although I do remember a lecturer having to rugby tackle him during a BHS stage 1 exam one time as he was a little fresh and wouldn’t stop!!). During jumping lessons he could be somewhat challenging and the sort you really had to sit up and ride rather than be a passenger on or he’d lock on to the fences and tank in to them. I always got on with him rather well in lessons, so thought we’d get on quite well at a competition...
...Oh how wrong was I!! 😂 The warm up fences were in the indoor arena, and they were fine, but the actual course was in the outdoor arena. As soon as the bell rang for our round, Shannon turned in to a horse possessed!! I could just about steer, but I had no say in the speed we went round at, and from Shannon’s perspective, the faster the better! He jumped most of the fences flat, and we had several poles down. My mum and dad had come to proudly watch their daughter and I think they left a little bit horrified about the whole ordeal!! I remember my mum saying we just looked like an orange blur going round.
Thankfully it was a smallish course, 2’6 or in modern money approximately 80cm, so although it wasn’t great, it could have been a lot worse and potentially dangerous. So how do we rectify it? By putting a stronger bit in his mouth? A different noseband? A martingale maybe? Different pieces of tack all have their place depending on the circumstances, but so does correct training.
This week you’ll see I’ve used my cavaletti for the demonstration, and they’re perfect for this exercise. If you don’t have any cavaletti, then raised poles are fine to use too. The cavaletti have been placed in our arena along the centre line at a related distance.
The idea of this exercise, is to approach in canter and go over the first two cavaletti in the sequence, then circle right and go over the middle cavaletti again, and then take the third cavaletti in the sequence. The next time you approach, you carry out the same exercise, but circle left instead, alternating the direction of the circle each time you complete the exercise, ensuring you also come from the far end and complete the exercise on both reins.
This will probably be quite a difficult exercise to begin with! The rider will need to ensure they really use their seat aids and their core by lifting the hands up and keeping the shoulders back. When done correctly, this exercise will train the horse to not ‘tank off’ over a course of fences, but to sit back on his hocks and listen to his riders instructions.