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Posted by Equestrian Queensland on 19/09/2019.

The Plus Training Exercise with Trish Braithwaite

I love Pole Exercises!  Using poles in training is easy to do and very beneficial to horses and riders of every level and discipline.  For the horse, it improves their gymnastic capabilities, enhances the rhythm, quality and cadence of their paces, and has been proven to develop the neurotransmitters in their brain associated with co-ordination & proprioception.  All these things develop his confidence in his body and partnership with his rider.   For the rider, it improves many things as simple as having them look where they’re going, pay attention to accuracy of line and rhythm, as well as develop balance in the saddle, co-ordination of their aids and sense of feel;  all the while being completely unaware of these things as they focus on the poles.  Training with Poles offers a variation in work for both horse & rider.  Plus it’s fun!

Before every training session, it’s important to assess the management of your horse.  Are his feet well shaped & in good condition?  Is he up to date with his dental care & vaccinations?  Have you had his tack, especially his saddle, checked for correct fit and safety?  Is he receiving optimum nutrition, calories, forage & well hydrated?  Is he looked over regularly by an Equine Body Therapist/Chiropractor to make sure he is comfortable & capable in his work?  All these things must be taken care of so you know your horse is going to benefit from the training.

The Exercise: 

I’m excited to share with you my favourite and I often teach this at Pole Clinics!  You don't need a trailer load of poles - just 4!  Set these 4 poles on a circle.  This circle can start from 20m (measured from the centre of each pole) to as large as your space allows.  Keep in mind that the smaller the circle, the more difficult the exercise, so if your horse is unfit, inexperienced or not supple you will need to start on a bigger circle.


Start by walking your horse over each pole on the circle, aiming for the centre of each pole.  Check that your horse stays in an active rhythm, sufficiently bending to the line.  Don’t be concerned if he bumps the poles with his feet - this is how he learns!  You can have a little play here - leg yield to the very outside edge of the poles where the circle is largest & challenge yourself to keep him stepping over the poles without falling off the edge!  Then “half-pass” (keep the same bend) back to the very inside edge of the poles where the circle is smallest.  Here you can see how easy or difficult he finds it to bend and balance himself where it’s more challenging.  Take a break.  

The next step is to move off the poles to the inside circle.  Ride right up against the ends of the poles so you’re using all the space inside the poles for this circle.  Then, when you’re parallel to the end of a pole, ride a little half-halt.  This ensures you shift the weight to his hindquarters to free his shoulders.  Then turn to make a circle on the opposite rein around the pole.  You can do this around the same pole each time, or try every second pole, then try every pole!  Take another break before you change direction to do it all again on the other rein.  

“Upping the ante”: 

Try doing the entire exercise at the trot!  Can you imagine how co-ordinated, balanced & gymnastic you both need to be to do this exercise at the canter?!

Remember:  all training we do with our horses is not to show that we’re perfect - we train to improve!  So don’t worry if you or your horse make mistakes or struggle with your balance & timing.  You can slow down, increase the size of the circle to make it a bit easier until you find it’s working well.  Then you can increase the level of difficulty.

Hot tip: 

You don’t need to design your own exercises to train using poles - there’s a plethora online & in books!  A favourite of mine is “101 Jumping Exercises for Horse & Rider” by Linda L Allen.  You can also try just placing poles in your training area “willy-nilly”!  The fun is finding lines & exercises around and over these poles.  Remember to include lots of transitions, bending lines & rest breaks!

Next Trish Braithwaite Poles Clinic is at Rivergum Park, Moggill on Sunday 29 Sept 
Contact Valerie Byrne on 0409 075 422

Find out more about Trish - 
[email protected]
0427 134 033

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