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In-Hand Polework - The Powerful Tool to Boost Your Horse's Health and Well-being

Here at Horses Inside Out we make no secret of the fact that we love polework and believe that it is hugely beneficial to all horses – and we don’t just mean ridden polework.

Working your horse over poles in-hand is a fabulous tool and offers a holistic approach to improving your horse's performance, health, and harmony with you, their handler.

Incorporating in-hand polework into your routine is a great way to a happy, healthy horse.

It is also a very beneficial training technique for horses, offering so many benefits that contribute to the horse's overall well-being and performance. Whether it’s walking your horse over a single pole on the floor, through to working him through a more complex pole configuration, each one is designed to enhance your horse's physical condition without the added weight of a rider, which reduces the stress on their joints and limbs.

Read on to find out why incorporating in-hand polework into your horse’s training is such a positive thing to do, plus a few exercises for you to try that will help to boost his all-round well-being and performance.


Horses Inside Out and Gillian Higgins horse being lunged over trotting poles
In-hand polework exercises allow you to study how your horse uses different parts of his body

The Benefits of In-Hand Polework

In-hand polework is so versatile and can easily be tailored to suit horses at different stages of training and rehabilitation.

“It isn’t just all about physical training,” explains Gillian Higgins. “Using in-hand polework is also an opportunity to build a deeper bond between you and your horse. It allows you to observe the horse's movement from the ground and really see how the exercises you are doing affect different parts of the body. It can also help to identify any potential weaknesses so you can tweak your training to help your horse.”


Balance and Self-Carriage

By navigating poles, your horse will learn to maintain his balance and develop self-carriage.


Muscle Conditioning & Toning

The varied movements that are needed to step over or around poles engage various muscle groups which helps to promote strength and flexibility. This conditioning is crucial for the horse's agility and longevity.


Mental Stimulation

In-hand polework challenges your horse mentally, encouraging them to think for themselves and make adjustments to their stride and posture without the need for any gadgets. What the horse learns from this in-hand work will then be transferred to their ridden work too.



Regular polework sessions can help you to identify and correct any natural asymmetries, ensuring that the horse moves symmetrically.


Joint Health

The gentle, low-impact nature of polework stimulates the production of synovial fluid, which lubricates the joints and promotes healthy movement – remember, if you don’t use it, you lose it!



As a horse works with poles, it enhances their sense of body position, movement, and coordination, all vital skills needed for all equestrian disciplines.


Keeping it Simple

It is not difficult to incorporate in-hand polework into your horse’s daily routine – you don’t necessarily need lots of expensive equipment either.

“One of the simplest exercises I encourage all horse owners to do is to walk their horse over a raised obstacle,” says Gillian Higgins. “This can be a raised pole, or a log positioned on the way to and from the field, this way it can easily be incorporated into your daily routine.”

Horses Inside Out and Gillian Higgins walking the horse over a raised log in-hand
A simple exercise of walking your horse over a raised log has many positive benefits

Walking over a raised obstacle

For maximum benefit, the obstacle needs to be knee or hock height. Walking over a raised pole requires greater flexion in the horse’s joints than in trotting.

As there is no moment of suspension in walk, the horse must clear the obstacle by stabilising his back, recruiting his core and by lifting his legs rather than using momentum as he would in trot or canter.

With the head and neck lowered, the action of walking over the obstacle strengthens the muscles involved in carrying the weight of the rider, encouraging the horse to lift and flex the back, hip, shoulder, elbow, stifle and hock.

The Maze Pole Exercise

Another great in-hand exercise that involves working your horse through poles rather than over them is the maze.

“This is a great in-hand exercise that improves lateral suppleness, coordination, core control and proprioception, explains Gillian. “It is not as easy as it looks, so take your time and let your horse work out what you are asking him to do.”

Horses Inside Out and Gillian Higgins the maze polework exercise
Great for improving coordination, core control and proprioception, the maze is a challenging exercise

The aim is to lead your horse in a serpentine line between the poles which encourages him to recruit his core muscles and round the back.


Other benefits of performing this exercise include:

  • Increased joint flexion

  • Encouraging horse to take more weight behind

  • Thoracic sling strengthening

  • Lateral flexion

  • Enhancing agility and coordination

  • Training obedience and precision


Navigating the Maze

Walk your horse through the maze without allowing him to step over any of the poles. Take it slowly and encourage your horse to step under and across his body with his hindlegs as he turns each corner.  

Watch the video below as Gillian demonstrates how to guide your horse through the maze.

As well as improving proprioception and core stability, this exercise also has the following benefits:


Groundwork for Core Stability

From the ground, this exercise can also be used as a proprioception and core stability workout. Ask your horse to step forward one step at a time, which teaches control and enhances their ability to manoeuvre precisely.


Improved Straightness and Suppleness

Working through the maze of poles requires your horse to move in a straight line and maintain balance while turning. This helps in correcting any natural asymmetry and promotes even muscle development on both sides of the body.


Better Proprioception

Proprioception refers to the horse's sense of body position and movement. Maze pole exercises challenge the horse to be mindful of where it places its feet, enhancing its spatial awareness and coordination.


Mental Stimulation

The maze pole exercise provides mental stimulation by presenting a challenge that requires focus and obedience. It breaks the monotony of routine workouts and keeps the horse mentally engaged.

Give these two exercises a go and let us know how you get on.

Keen to Discover More?

For a greater insight into the benefits of polework and more exercises to try with your own horse we have two fabulous on-demand recorded webinars available in the Horses Inside Out Academy

Horses Inside Out Poles for Posture on-demand recorded webinar

In this on-demand recorded webinar, Gillian demonstrates a variety of different exercises and pole configurations which you can do in walk and trot, in-hand or ridden. She also explains how pole work can develop balance, flexibility, coordination, lateral flexion, strength and control

Horses Inside Out on-demand recorded webinar Polework and Gymnastic Jumping

The main part of this on-demand webinar looks at polework and jumping configurations, how to ride them and how they benefit your horse. Whether you are interested in dressage, eventing, pleasure riding or jumping, both you and your horse will benefit from the biomechanical advantages demonstrated in this webinar. 

Horses Inside Out: Academy - Learn more with us!

For more fabulous online learning content, head over to the Horses Inside Out Academy. There you will find hours of educational recorded webinars, seminars and lecture demonstrations to give you a clearer understanding of how your horse works from the inside out.


Watch these exercises and more live at the Horses Inside Out Evening Extravaganza at Moulton College on Saturday 21st September 2024


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