When used correctly, working over poles on the ground will improve your horse’s balance, rhythm and work their core for an all-round body workout. But in order for your horse to feel the benefit, you do need to get to grips with setting out poles with the correct distance between each one. This will vary depending on your horse’s horse size and their stride length, explains coach and former five-star eventer John Thelwall.

Getting your distances wrong makes it more difficult for your horse to understand and be physically able to do what you’re asking of them. Over time, that could impact on his confidence.

“The aim of any pole work or jumping exercise is to teach a horse what to do if they get into trouble,” explains John. “It’s really important to set poles out at the correct distances. You don’t want to catch your horse out or make it tricky for them. Remembering distances is where many people get in a muddle, but you can get it right.”

Trotting poles

Trotting poles are an excellent way to improve your horse’s rhythm and balance. John recommends setting out trotting poles at a distance of 5ft apart.

“This is a little longer than other trainers recommend, but I find this takes your horse out of their comfort zone and helps them learn to think for themselves,” explains John.

He advises that for your horse to feel the benefit of the exercise and get into a steady rhythm, you’ll need to have at least four trotting poles laid out, up to a maximum of eight.

Raised poles

“When working with raised poles, I would have a maximum of six poles with a distance of 5ft between each one,” says John. “Start with all of the poles on the ground and raise them progressively, from the middle pole outwards, to a maximum of 9 inches off the ground.

“I would also suggest that your first and last pole stay on the ground at a slightly shorter distance of 4ft 6in from the next pole,” adds John. “This makes it easier for your horse before they have to work harder.”

Poles on a circle

Riding over poles on a circle isn’t as easy as you may think, but it’s great discipline for you and your horse to stay in balance. It requires accuracy too, so that you ride over the middle of each pole in an even rhythm. Set out your poles in a fan shape on the size of circle you’re riding. The distance between each pole should be 5ft, measured from the centre of each one.

This means the distance between the poles at the outer edge of the circle will be longer than the distance between the poles at the inner circle. Depending on your horse’s training level, you can alter the line you ride through the poles in order to ask them for a longer or shorter stride.

Meet the expert: John Thelwall is best known as an event rider, having competed at Badminton and Burghley in the 1980s. He is also an experienced racing jockey and show jumper. John now concentrates on coaching, encouraging riders to find a positive connection with their horse.

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