September Pole Challenge
Most horseback riders associate ground poles with jumpers and training horses jumping over obstacles. Whether you ride dressage, jumper, eventers, or reiners, pole work benefits you and your horse. Regular pole work can increase your horse’s strength and flexibility, hindquarter engagement, and gait expression.
So we’ve decided to make September “Pole Challenge” month! The challenge is to include at least 10 minutes of pole work every time you ride this month. We think you’ll be shocked by the results!
If you have never done pole work with your horse, always start at the walk. Remember, your horse is working new and different muscles, and even walking the pole pattern can make them sore the first few times.
Here are a few pole exercises to get you started!
Poles at a Walk
Setup: Set out six poles in a straight line, roughly 2 ½ boot lengths apart. When you measure ground pole distance, step heel to toe.
Exercise: This exercise is done at a walk. Unlike the trot or canter, a walk does not have a moment of suspension, meaning your horse will need to use their core and hind end to lift their legs over the poles. Walk your horse straight over the poles several times to help build muscle.
Special Notes: If your horse has never done pole work or is out of shape, start with the poles flat on the ground. If your horse has done pole work, raise one side of the pole with a block.
S-Shaped Poles at the Trot
Setup: Set up eight poles in an S-shape. There should be about five boot lengths between the middle of each pole. The poles will make a big fan shape at each curve.
Exercise: After your horse has warmed up, trot them over the poles at a working trot. This shape will require much more concentration to ensure your horse bends with the curve of the poles. This exercise improves your horse’s bend, flexibility, and hindquarter engagement.
Special Notes: If your horse has never done pole work, do this in each direction 2-3 times at most. This seemingly simple pattern is very tricky for horses and riders. Don’t be disappointed if it takes a lot of practice to master.
Setup: Place four poles end-to-end in a zig-zag pattern away from the fence.
Exercise: Trot over the first pole, then circle to change direction, trot over another rail, circle again and continue through the pattern. Try this with larger circles first. Once your horse does well with larger circles, try smaller circles or cantering the same pattern.
Special Note: If you are worried about trying this pattern at the trot, try it at the walk first. This can help solidify the pattern for you before attempting a faster pace.
Setup: Use four poles to create a box near the center of your arena.
Exercise: There are several exercises you can do with this setup. The first is walking or trotting into the box and halting when all four feet are within the box. The second is walking or trotting over the box from various directions or completing a figure-8 with the box as the center point.
Special Note: This is a great exercise when you need to tune up your precision.
Good luck with the pole challenge! We’d love to hear how it went!