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Polework Exercises You Can Do to Improve Your Horse's Performance

Updated: Jun 5

Polework is such a powerful training aid which can improve your horse's performance. Even simple polework exercises, when done correctly, will improve a horse’s way of going. There are so many benefits of using polework, but most of all it encourages the horse to think for himself and to make changes to his posture or way of going naturally – with no force.


In this article we look at the general benefits of polework, the importance of correct distances and choosing the right exercise for your horse. Finally I also share, in detail and with videos, how to set up and perform one of my favourite polework exercises.

 

Polework exercises you can do with your horse. Improve posture, joint movement, suppleness, mobility and strength

It's not just a case of going over poles in any old fashion though, for maximum benefit it’s essential to select the right pole exercise for your horse and set it up correctly so it strengthens certain muscles, mobilises specific joints and alters a horse’s posture by design. The distances between, heights, widths, shapes, orientation, number and combination will all affect the effect!

 

Before you rush to put out lots of poles for your next training session, spend some time thinking about what you are trying to achieve. Having a thorough understanding of the biomechanics of polework is essential for it to be truly effective.


The topic of polework will be covered at our live lecture demonstration at Hartpury Equine on 23 May 2024. This is a fabulous opportunity to learn more about equine anatomy and biomechanics. These evenings are always fun and interactive. The use of live anatomically painted horses will help to bring the subject to life and allow you see just what areas of the horse are influenced when doing polework.



The Benefits of Pole Work

Polework is a useful exercise for horses from all disciplines and the benefits should never be underestimated. Polework is good for:

  • maintaining balance

  • developing rhythm and energy

  • toning muscles

  • encouraging symmetrical movement

  • stimulating the production of synovial fluid within the joints

  • keeping the horse flexible

  • improving proprioception and hoof/brain coordination


Specific polework exercises can also be used to rehabilitate horses from injury or neurological conditions.


Let Your Horse Do the Work

For maximum benefit, polework should be practised regularly. Whether ridden or in-hand the horse should have a long rein and freedom to lower his head. This enables him to assess how and where to place his limbs and, as lowering the head and neck raises the back and engages the abdominal muscles, it will help improve posture too.

 

trot pole exercises you can do with your horse.

Pole Distances - Getting it Right!


For your horse to feel the benefits of polework you must get your distances correct. Poles placed closer together encourage the horse to shorten and collect. If placed further apart help the horse lengthen the frame and develop extended gaits.



Walk pole exercises you can do with your horse

So often, especially with walk poles, the distances are made too long for the horse's stride length and level of development. When a horse is asked to reach for poles that are too long, it results in an unwanted extended poor posture.


Also if the poles are going to be raised up it is better to have the distances on the shorter side to get the best results. This allows for a good biomechanical action, giving the horse time and space to focus on upward limb movement rather than forward reach.


Below is a very basic guide to distances however if you'd like to learn more we recommend you watch these two short FREE TUTORIAL VIDEOS available in the Horses Inside Out Academy:-


Walk poles

70cm – 1m

Trot poles

1.2m – 1.7m

Canter poles

2.6m – 3.2m

Walk poles are great for developing back rotation, lateral flexion, strength and control.

Trot poles help to develop core and abdominal strength, back stability, power and spring

Canter poles strengthen the back, raise the forehand and hindquarters. Strengthen the thoracic sling and for increasing back mobility, flexion and extension.

 

Improving Your Horse's Performance

Polework exercises help straightness and symmetry as stride lengths are forced to be equal. With a little imagination and ingenuity poles and blocks can be configured in many ways to provide fun, variety and challenge whatever the gait.


simple polework exercises for horses to improve posture, movement and rehabilitation

There are many different polework exercises that you can do with your horse. For inspiration, take a look at the on-demand recorded webinar Poles for Posture.




The Slalom Exercise

One of my favourite polework exercises is the slalom. It's fun and really quite addictive! It can be performed ridden or in-hand or ridden and it has so many benefits from developing hoof-brain coordination and symmetry to improving horse-rider communication, understanding and harmony.


This exercise stimulates and strengthens:-

  • the lateral stabilisers which help protect the joints from injury when turning

  • the thoracic sling muscles which support the thorax and important for posture

  • the muscles which lift the base helping to develop a good neck outline

  • the core muscles which support good posture.


𝗛𝗼𝘄 𝘁𝗼 𝗱𝗼 𝗶𝘁

Before attempting this exercise ensure your horse is capable of walking over a single slightly raised pole at an oblique angle.


Step 1:

Firstly place five poles in a long line - end to end. Raise them up a little. We recommend the use of mini-blocks. This encourages the horse to make a more purposeful and elevated step over the pole and also makes the poles more stable and less likely to roll if your horse knocks them. If you choose not to raise the poles ensure you use half rounds, square or foam poles instead.


Step 2:

Be sure to have a go at this exercise on foot on your own before attempting it with your horse. Watch the video below for a clear explanation:




Step 3:

Approach on a line parallel to the poles, as if you are going to walk straight past with the poles on one side. Be aware of which forelimb is stepping when. I find it useful to start saying "left - right - left - right" in time with the placement of the front feet.


Step 4:

With the forelimb closest to the pole leading, ask the horse to take a sideways step over the pole. Appreciate that this is a leg-yield / zig zag exercise and as such the horse needs to stay paralell to the poles. So many people make the mistake of thinking this is a serpentine exercise and just wander over the poles back and forth in an 'S' shape. There is so much more that can be gained from this exercise with accuracy and attention to detail!


Step 5:

Take an odd number of steps before crossing back over the pole again. I recommend starting with 7 steps on each side of the pole then progrssing to 5. This is an exercise that takes time to perfect - but as they say practice makes perfect. Take your time and build up slowly with your horse.

"This is a progressive exercise, don't be in a hurry - it's important to do it correctly for both you and your horse to truly feel the benefits."

Only when well practised and proficient at 5 steps progress to 3steps on each side of the pole. This is a very advanced version of the exercise and requires great hoof-brain coordination and communication. Watch the videos below for a clear explanation and demonstration.


The Slalom in Action



If you enjoyed this article discover more....


There is so much more to learn about polework and if this blog has inspired you to find out more, you will find a number of insightful and practical on-demand recorded webinars available in the Horses Inside Out Academy.


polework exercses for horses to improve posture.

Poles for Posture - Gillian demonstrates a variety of different exercises and pole configurations which can be performed at walk and trot, in-hand or ridden. She also explains how pole work can develop balance, flexibility, coordination, lateral flexion, strength and control. 



horse and rider jumping. polework and gymnastic jumping exercises for horses

Polework and Gymnastic Jumping - looks at polework and jumping configurations, how to ride them and the benefits to your horse. Whether you are interested in dressage, eventing, pleasure riding or jumping, both you and your horse will the benefit from the biomechanical advantages of incorporating polework into your training. 


How horses jump explained from an anatomical and biomechanical perspective.

Jumping from the Anatomical Approach, episode 4 of the online lecture demonstration series, looks in detail at the biomechanics of jumping and many different exercises to affect jump shape and improve jumping performance.

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