Using ground poles or raised (cavalletti) poles can aid in strength, balance and coordination in your horse, no matter the discipline you ride.
You don’t have to be a jumper to reap the benefits of using pole exercises. Heels Down Mag compiled our favorite cavalletti exercises that can be implemented by any rider in any discipline. Whether you’re looking for new exercises to keep regular work interesting and fun for your horse, or you’d like to add new strengthening tools to your tool box, we’ve got you covered.
Using Poles At The Walk
Incorporating ground and raised poles at the walk will help a horse learn to stretch through the back and ultimately strengthen the hind end. Doing so at a walk is a fine introductory method for a green or anxious horse to this type of more mentally challenging work.
Create A Square. Use four 12-foot-long poles to create a square (all ends touching) in the middle of your riding arena or pasture. When mounted, the rider should take a long approach to the middle of one side of the square, and aim to be straight as they walk over one pole and out over the second. The rider can then turn left or right to loop back and walk over the two other “walls” of the square, creating a clover-leaf type pattern while always passing through the center of the square. This exercise helps with straightness and reinforcing proper bend through the turn.
*To make the square exercise more challenging, try the pattern at the trot and and a halt every time you pass through the center of the square.
Serpentine Like A Snake. Place a row of poles in a straight line down the middle of your arena or pasture. Ask your horse to cross over the poles at a walk from the right to the left and vice versa, creasing a fluid “zig-zag” shape like a snake. Walk both ways across the line of poles, riding tight serpentines back and forth. This exercise helps alleviate stiffness and resistance, while beginning to ask the horse fore more freedom in the shoulders, which will aid in more sophisticated lateral work maneuvers in the future.
Exercises For The Trot
Several Poles In A Row. Get a true feel of that bounce step by placing five or more poles in a row, generally spaced at four to four-and-a-half feet a part (depending on your horse’s stride) and trot through them back and forth. Similar to other exercises, you want to approach the row of poles in a straight, forward trot and aim for the center of each pole. You can add as many poles as you’d like to this line. Your horse will “bounce” as he lifts his legs over each pole. Get into two-point position and off his back as he learns his balance, and how to lift and stretch properly through the exercise.
*To make this exercise more challenging, you can add a “blank space” somewhere in your line of poles, perhaps about 12 feet, which will allow the horse to trot naturally and give him a break between series of poles.
Fan On A Circle. Set up a series of poles through a turn or on half a circle. The poles should be closer together on the inside of the circle or turn, and “fan out”, offering a greater distance between them at the opposite end. Come through the turn of poles at a forward trot. You can choose to turn closer to the middle, where the horse’s stride must be more condensed, or toward the outside, where the stride can be longer. This is a great exercise for maintaining tempo, creating balance and aiding in adjustability.
Cavalletti At The Canter
Two Poles On A Circle. Place two 12-foot-long poles on opposite ends of a 20-meter circle. Develop a comfortable working canter while on the circle, and come over each pole directly in the middle while maintaining a proper inside bend. This is a great exercise to help the rider and horse maintain a good rhythm and tempo in the stride, and to find a comfortable distance to each pole. The horse should naturally canter over every pole as if it was just another stride. Practice the exercise going both directions (right lead and left lead, respectively) on the circle.
Two Poles In A Straight Line. It may sound fairly basic, by try cantering over two ground or raised poles in a straight line, placed at least 10 feet a part. (You can adjust the distance depending on the number of strides you’d like to ride.) Canter down the line of poles in both directions, aiming for the center of each one. This is a simple, but great exercise to help with adjustability. The rider can lengthen or shorten the stride in between the poles.
*To make the line more challenging, create additional lines of poles set at different striding, similar to a course of fences.