With just 8 poles laid out in a very simple way, here's 10 great training exercises I love to do with the horses at home. Most of these exercises involve working around the poles - rather than over them - so it's a bit different from your traditional 'pole work.'
Some can be done on the lunge or long-reining too - and you can simply pick the levels to suit you... Why not set yourself a challenge to perfect an exercise you might not have tried before?
ONE - Simple Balance & Straightness
Ride around the outside of the poles, and circle within the poles. For lunging it’s a really good exercise if your horse falls in or out at various points on the circle. It will be due to their lack of balance which is why they do this. You can raise the poles up slightly if it helps create a bit more of a barrier. In the long reins it really makes you both focus on you control and steering and adjust-ability. It's really good for horses just starting out!
TWO - Walk & Trot Transitions
Ride within the poles, trotting on the straight sides and walking round the corners. It’s a very good exercise to begin to establish your half halts and get your horse on your aids. The walk through the corners helps you to control the shoulders both in, through and out of the turn. If ridden, remember it’s not your inside hand to steer your horse. Your legs are there to help manoeuvre and adjust accordingly. It’s a good exercise to help sharpen up a horse, but to also relax an excited horse.
THREE - Circles
Circles both within the poles, and over the poles. It’s a good way to start adjusting the size of circles without the balance changing. This can be done in all three paces. Stepping over the poles will help your horses with the engagement of their hind legs. This is good for horses moving from Prelim to Novice level where we start going from a 20 metre circle in trot and canter, to a 10/15 metre circle.
FOUR - Leg Yielding
Alternating your circles within the poles and around the poles, introducing a leg yield to move between the two circles.
I love this exercise to help improve suppleness on those 10m circles that we have to perform from Novice to Advanced medium level. The leg yield movement between each circle helps create the bend and engagement of the hind legs whilst still moving forwards to help with the turns. It's a great way to the leg yield without allowing the horse to run away with you.
FIVE - 10m Circles
Ride within the poles, introducing 10m circles in each corner.
This is a really good exercise to help with the accuracy of your 10m circles and to help keep the flow around them from start to finish. It's perfect for Novice-Advanced medium horses and can be ridden in all paces.
SIX - Transitions & Changes
This exercise is great for all levels. Ride a figure of eight, with an additional circle at each end, introducing a transition 'X.' The transition at ‘X’ can either be walk-half, trot-canter, a simple change, a flying change - whatever it is that you need to practice. The circle before and after helps prevent the horse running away and makes you as a rider think about preparing for the new bend and turn. This exercise is seen in tests such as P15, 17, N39, E45, E57, e59.
SEVEN - Varying the stride
Count your number of strides down one side, then on the opposite side see if you can go one stride more or less. See if you can increase this to +/- 2, and so on. It begins to help teach lengthening and collection - perfect for all levels. Thinking about being able to use your seat and half halts to lengthen and extend, not your hands/pulling!
EIGHT - Introducing Walk Pirouettes
This is a great way to start teaching walk pioneered/controlling the outside shoulder. Ride quarter/90 degree turns around the outside edges of the poles. According to your horses level of education you can half pass/leg yield back across (the half pass will help with the bend required in the full walk pirouette.) If you're in half pass - for the last few strides, turn it into a leg yield and carry back in with your quarter turns. Once you're confident with the quarter turns try a 180 degree turn!
NINE - Flying Changes
This is a really good way to help with straightness in your flying changes. Ride a 10m circle at one end, followed by however many changes you would like alongside the poles, and then ride a 10m circle at the next set of poles. We find this especially useful for any horse who may get a bit keen as the tempo changes increase.
TEN - The Serious Stuff!
This exercise is for the more advanced horses to help learn and keep the balance and bend in their canter pirouettes. Ride a 10m circle around the outside of the poles, then half pass into the inside of the next set of poles. Keep the bend and connection from the half pass and think ‘half pass around a 6/8m circle.' As you finish the circle leg yield away to help keep the jump and quality of the canter/inside hind and to take the pressure of the collection of the canter off the horse.
Remember to think; soft hands, keep the jump of the canter and for you to stay in the middle of the horse and think about them coming around.
We hope you enjoy trying these exercises at home! Why not share your photos and tag us to let us know how you're getting on or any questions you have?