Poles on a Circle 

Last week I had a bit of a theme running through my lessons, namely poles on a circle.

It started last Monday with the BFG, a 17.2hh giant of a horse who has fairly little spatial awareness. I have never seen a horse canter through canter poles in no rhythm! My mission for this year is to improve his canter.

So that I didn’t make things too difficult in their first lesson of 2016, we began with three trot poles on a curve. It was on an approximate 20m circle and to begin with my rider had to keep the shape of the circle through the poles. As the BFG engages his inside hind leg he cheats, and instead of supporting his body weight with that hind he falls out through his outside shoulder. So we spent some time on each rein perfecting the poles and improving my rider’s outside rein and outside leg so that she could best support her horse. The trot began to improve, and he was beginning to push a bit more from his hindquarters and track up. The BFG struggles to track up, so we also experimented with riding a bigger circle over the poles, so that he had to open his strides as the distance between the poles increased. That lesson we didn’t get as far as raising the poles or canter poles on a circle, but this week we used canter poles in a straight line in preparation for raising the poles which will make the BFG  canter properly over poles, and not place a front leg either side of each pole, followed by a hind leg either side of each pole!

Later last Monday I used the poles on the circle with a young client and her pony. I’ve schooled the pony so he is less upside-down in his carriage, and moves forwards into the contact. However, because this pony is also quite weak behind, he drifts through corners. I wanted to highlight the way this pony evades working correctly on a circle to his rider so she could learn what it feels like and how to correct it. It worked, and her circles were much better after and the stable, more consistent rein contact combined with her legs supporting and steering her pony improved both the trot and canter. This week’s lesson moved on to raised poles, to help strengthen and improve the pony’s trot and canter. I’ll tell you more about the jumping exercise we moved on to another day.

A pony that I’ve been riding the last few weeks lacks confidence over poles, and has a very weak canter which can be more correctly described as a lope, found these poles really beneficial. I’ve used trot and canter poles in a straight line to open the gaits up, loosen her back muscles, and get her stretching, but the trot poles on a circle added a new level of difficulty – further improving her suppleness, balance, and rhythm. This mare found raised trotting poles quite demanding, but she tried hard and I could feel her starting to swing more over her back as she got more supple. Yesterday I raised some canter poles on a curve for her, and on the right rein she took to the exercise confidently, bounding over each pole, and leaving the poles with a bigger canter, and more active in the hindquarters. The left rein was a bit harder for her as it’s  her weaker rein, so I didn’t do quite as high poles and repeated the exercise until the mare was confident and the canter was improving after the poles. I’m hoping to build on this next time as engaging the mare’s abdominals as she pops over each pole will strengthen them, improve her posture, and help her jump with a better technique.

Poles on a circle, whether raised or not, help improve the horse’s rhythm (the poles regulate the length of stride), balance (it highlights any loss of balance so it can be corrected in future), suppleness (stride length can be adjusted and circle size can be changed to make the exercise harder), and flexibility (stepping over each pole increases the flexion of each joint). For the rider, it will improve their balance, feel for rhythm and loss of horse’s balance, accuracy, and improve the timing and effectiveness of their aids. 

I find this sort of pole work a useful test for both horse and riders, and it can be made more complex as necessary and provides good grounding for jumping and grid work. 

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