Most horsemen recognize the value of trotting poles and cavalletti to develop suppleness and to aid training in nearly every discipline. Placing the trotting poles on a circle rather than on the more familiar straight line adds degrees of suppling, strengthing, versatility and variety to the exercise.
This arrangement for trotting poles is particularly useful for developing greater hock activity and engagement, since the inside hind foot must accept more weight. It can be used to re-establish a four-beat walk rhythm for a horse that tends to a lateral walk.
The exercise also helps develop straightness, since the haunches can't be carried to the side while within the poles. It may help a horse learn to adjust its stride, to shift its center of balance, and to respond to the aids for both lengthening and collecting strides.
The circle of poles can also be used by a variety of horses without changing the spacing because each rider will soon learn the ideal track through the poles for his particular horse's length of stride.
This curved line with poles can also be a check for lameness: If the horse because uneven for a few steps after leaving the poles, this could point toward muscle pain or stress in the horse.
Three poles are ideal. It's more difficult to maintain the stride's cadence on a circle with poles than it is on a straight line because the increased difficulty will incline the horse to drift out and change his line. This, in turn, will alter the spacing of the strides and thus increase the chance that the horse will step on a pole. With more than three poles, he will then start to scramble.
Therefore it's also ideal to use poles that won't roll, either because the sides are planed or because they have fixed cavelletti standards at the ends. Your horse is less likely to stumble if the pole can't roll, and if he does step on a pole it won't slide out of position. If you use round poles, even if in a straight line, stick to the limit of three so the horse can regain his balance if he steps on one. If you have low standards, blocks or fixed cavelletti, you also can raise the poles off the ground for both riding and lungeing. When working on a circle, the maximum height should be 6" to 8".
Using jumping poles with stripes painted on them makes it easier to step off the spacing and to maintain the line while riding through the exercise. Footing is also a consideration, and sand footing is best because of its consistent traction for both the horse's hooves and to prevent the poles from rolling. You don't want footing that is slick, deep or uneven.
The three poles are arranged like a fan or the spokes on a wheel, with tighter spacing toward the inside. They should be placed in the ring so that a clear 20-meter circle is available nearby for either riding or longeing. If the ring is already strewn with jumps, you can place the three poles near a standard so that they are pretty much out of the way for the jumping lines.