Using poles is commonly incorporated into training and can also be used during rehabilitation. It has many desirable effects on horse movement such as:
· Increasing core strength and stability (balance)
· Altering stride length (lengthening or shortening)
· Increasing proprioception (awareness of where the horse’s legs are)
· Increasing range of movement (flexion of joints)
· Increasing general muscle strength
It is important with pole exercises that you gradually increase the difficulty of them to ensure your horse can cope and performs the exercise effectively. Even walking poles can be strenuous and though your horse may not seem to be puffing, their muscles will be feeling the strain.For example, start with a single pole on the floor and increase complexity from there.
Below are some common pole set ups used for rehabilitation, they can be done led, using long reins or ridden:
Poles in a Straight line
Set out poles in a line, spaced at 1.2m or one large human stride. Work through them in walk first, followed by trot. Next, raise alternate ends of the poles (beginning with one at a time for inexperienced horses) to increase the range of motion in the joints. On approach, make sure that the horse is balanced and straight, and let him find his own way through the poles.
Set up poles, as per the picture below. Following the blue arrow, walk through in a forward manner. If riding, as you turn each corner, open your inside hand to encourage the horse to bend through the body in the direction of travel and place your inside leg behind the girth, encouraging him to step under and cross over with his hindlegs. Once set up, you can also use this exercise to walk and trot over the poles (see arrows on diagram below).
Set out 3+ poles in a fan shape with a foot’s width between the poles at the narrow end of the fan, and about five to six feet’s width at the widest. Ask the horse to work his way through the poles ensuring he is active. Shorten and lengthen his stride depending on which line he takes over the poles. Ensure he has a slight inside bend through his body.
· Walk is the most effective pace to perform pole exercises as there is no moment of suspension, so all movement is due to muscular effort.
· The closer the poles are together, the more the horse has to sit back and push from behind and, alternatively, the further they are set apart, the more the horse has to lengthen his stride — take care as this can encourage the horse to fall onto his forehand.
· Working horses over poles without a rider allows the horse to move more through his back and core. You can also see from the ground how the horse is moving.
· If you have any concerns, please contact your Veterinary Physiotherapist or instructor/trainer.
If you are interested in reading more, this book is a fascinating read: Cavaletti: for Dressage and Jumping-Klimke, 2012