Poles: Perfect Practice

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Everyone who competes over fences would love to jump every day, to keep their ?eye? sharp and to work on the myriad challenges inherent in jumping. But horses? bodies simply can't hold up to such daily rigors. Instead, use this exercise to simulate jumping without the physical stress of actually leaving the ground.

Horse and Trainer

Just scatter poles around the ring and pretend they're jumps. it's best if you don't set them at ?perfect? distances like you usually set jumps, because one purpose of this exercise is to help you learn to ?see? the distance to the pole and to learn to adjust your horse's stride and frame to meet it correctly.

To develop your ?eye? for a distance, you can count strides to the poles: four-three-two-one-pole.

You can set the poles as a course without height, placing them near the corners, across diagonals, or wherever you want. And then canter over them, concentrating on your position (weight in your heels, eyes up, in balance with the horse) and on the quality of your canter (active and forward, relaxed and supple, balanced). don't think of the poles as jumps; just keep doing your flatwork as you canter over them. Think ?dressage with poles.?

Why' Because all the rules or goals of flatwork still apply when you go to jump. Your horse will jump much better if He's actively forward, relaxed and supple ? and if you're in balance with him as you ride ? than he will if all that stuff flies out the window.

If your horse's strides are rhythmic, it means your horse is forward, relaxed and supple, and you can use poles to help you find that rhythm. Place the poles on opposite sides of a 20-meter circle and pick up a forward, balanced canter in your jumping or two-point position, just to the outside of the poles. Now canter the circle, putting the exact same number of strides between each pole (probably five to eight strides, depending on your horse and how energetically you're cantering). Count the strides. If you get the same number of strides between each pole, that means you're keeping the rhythm and you're using your outside aids correctly to maintain the arc of the circle.

You can also place your poles on a straight line to practice getting a certain number of strides between them. let's say you canter over the poles once and get six strides. Come again and, using your legs and seat, shorten your horse's stride and frame to get seven strides. Now lengthen his stride and get five. Next time shorten the stride for seven strides. You could even shorten the stride more to fit in eight strides. You?ve just practiced adjusting your horse's stride.

The pole exercise is good for your horse too. Anytime your horse has to negotiate poles on the ground (at any gait), it helps his footwork, his awareness of where He's putting his feet. That improves his ability to adjust and balance himself, an ability you want your horse to have in any discipline. Stay tuned: Next month we have a field-trial report on cavalletti.

Article by Performance Editor John Strassburger.