Pole work.. Does 'bigger' mean better?
This question came up while talking to a new livery client on a yard that I visit (pre lockdown), who was about to set up ‘some poles’ to work her horse over, as she asked if I had time to help her set 36 poles 'as this was the only way pole work would be beneficial for her horse'. It really did get me to thinking about what they were aiming to achieve. Note I didn’t know the person nor the horse, so I didn’t feel best placed to advise at this stage. Over recent years, the use of large set ups for pole work have gathered in popularity, but does a bigger set up and more poles mean it is better? In short maybe, but possibly not, you could work over a small set of poles in straight lines and still achieve lots, removing the extra time needed when you are at the yard alone, the additional cost of equipment; not to mention having to bring out all of that equipment on your own. For large arrangements you first need extensive set up time, a large number of poles, pole risers and the perfect area to create you supper fabb design; in reality with few items you can create some interesting options and work you and your horse successfully. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good pole set up and for coaching groups and running clinics, I will often set up several exercises in the arena, like the picture below, so I can quickly assess, change and move horse and rider combinations around to an arrangement or exercise that suits them; likewise, big grids and arrangements can be great for adding variation and interest to what you are doing, both for the horse and the rider; offering a variation and continuation of work for a longer period of time/ distance across your schooling area, but this is not essential. Let’s look at some of the key reasons for using pole work in your schooling, · Variation to work to add interest for horses and rider · Gymnastic working for the horse- utilising wider muscle groups · Improve engagement · Develop and improve balance, rhythm & suppleness · Working on extension and collection (variation) of a gate · Straightness for both horse and rider · Developing consistency of movement for both horse and rider · Preparing for jumping · Set as items or work over and around This list is not exhaustive. It is important to note the additional work for the horse to work over poles, it is gymnastic and may physically and mentally tire them quicker than working on the flat, it is important not to ‘overcook the pie’ as it were, avoid overdoing it by not riding the same thing over and over again. Most pole setups that you work over are set to work on either walk, trot or canter, it makes sense that your horse should be happy to walk before you trot and trot before you canter, and as a rider we can maintain balance in each gate too! The value of working on and developing the walk and how great poles can be in helping with this can be underestimated, some of my favourite pole exercises are those that work between walk and halt, over and through poles to really engage the horse and rider, but these can sometimes be more challenging to ride accurately, than trotting a straight line of poles. Whether you are setting up a 26 pole arrangement or just 3, ensure you have a plan of what are you trying to achieve while doing this and that the poles are correctly spaced for the gait and your horse. If in doubt ask your coach, I’m sure they will take 10 minutes to give you something to work on and show you how to safely set things up (I most definitely would!).
2 very simple examples are for when you are working solo are, 1) x4 poles set up in a box or
2) x3 poles in a triangle If you're home alone during this lockdown looking for inspiration, Equi-pole app it has some great ideas, ranging from the simple to the advanced along with lots of helpful information. visit @equi_pole_app_offiicial on Instagram; or @Equivate_ , also on Instagram; both provide useful layout ideas. What is brilliant with both of these organisations is they provide clear plans, that offer progressions to build complexity. Don’t forget nothing will replace face to face coaching, focusing on you and your horse and tailoring things specifically for you both; likewise having good horse and rider organisation (alignment/biomechanics) before attempting poles is essential. Lastly pole work should be used as part of a wider training plan with a horse and rider, under the supervision and guidance of a qualified and competent coach. Keep it simple, big set ups don’t always mean better, but they do mean interest and variation above keep it fun & realistic!
'Njoy your riding!
Images below of a pole work clinic run by myself, with several set ups and exercises