Many riders concentrate on developing their own core strength, but you should also do the same for your horse, as strengthening his core will make it easier for him to transfer the weight from his front end to his hindquarters. By engaging the hind end, the front end will lift and feel lighter, and exercises should start to feel easier for your horse.
Polework is one great way to improve your horse’s joint flexion as well as strengthening his abdominal muscles and adding rhythm to his steps. Here dressage rider Julie Frizzell’s explains how with one simple exercise.
Depending on whether you have help on the ground or not there are two options you can try:
Option 1 - If you have help on the ground
Ask a friend to set out three trotting poles in a line at the normal trot stride distance for your horse. Ride your horse over these in an active trot making sure your horse is engaged and listening to your aids. He should lift his legs up over the poles while staying active in the trot. Make sure you also keep your core engaged during this exercise by lifting yourself up in the saddle. The feeling of elevation you get as you ride over the poles is the feeling you want to maintain on the flat.
To engage your horse’s core for longer periods of time ask your friend to add more poles to the line (to a maximum of seven) by doing this it will really start to strengthen up his core muscles.
Option 2 - Without help on the ground
If you haven’t got help on the ground set your poles up randomly around the arena before getting tacked up. Don’t place them close together to make sure that if your horse catches his foot on one and rolls it, you don’t have to get off and move it back. By placing the poles randomly at different points in the arena your horse you’ll be able to change the rein so he’s not always leading with the same foreleg which will help develop your feel and ensure you’re balanced in your own abs work.
Once you’ve mastered this in trot move on to canter polework. Make sure you shorten up your horse’s stride so that you get lift over the poles and not just pure power taking you forward.
More about our expert
Julie Frizzell is a dressage rider and coach who specialises in helping grass roots riders reach their potential. Along with her horse Stan, she’s won two national para dressage titles and ridden for Great Britain.