Recently I`ve used a pair of poles to create a chute for a number of clients for a number of different reasons – never underestimate the power of two poles!
One young client was practising her dressage test which involved a half twenty metre circle at A, followed by a half twenty metre circle from X to C. It`s a glorified half figure of eight, but the pair were struggling to keep the consistency through the change of bend, and one half circle kept being bigger than the other. So I placed the tramlines over X, facing E and B. This gave my rider a visual goal, ensured the circle wasn`t too small, but also the poles meant that the they had to ride straight, which gave my client chance to change her bend and disgonal slowly, as well as enouraging her to slow down the movement. When they had got the hang of this I removed the poles to test their ability to ride the movement unaided.
Most horses become crooked in the canter, curling around the inside leg, so cantering between the tramlines can help improve straightness significantly as the horse self-straightens and the rider has a lightbulb moment about straightness – really useful for a green rider. One pony that I teach can be crooked and also fall in in canter, so I asked my rider to canter down the three quarter line, between the poles. Turning off the track proved problematic initially, but once my rider prepared herself a little earlier to take into account that she was moving faster they managed it. I always love watching crooked horses suddenly loosen up and their stride lengthen when they straighten themselves up through the poles. For a rider, it is very enlightening, and gives them the right feeling to aim for without the poles.
Transitions between poles can help with accuracy and straightness too. For beginners, it`s useful to teach them accuracy, to prepare for the transition before they get there and then to time their aids. For green horses the tramlines help stabilise them, and support them, much as the fenceline does. It is also really useful for teaching horses to rein back, as they have to stay straight.
I like using tramlines on the approach and exit to jumps to help riders steer straight, to encourage a horse to be straight so that they can bascule more correctly and find the jump easier. It`s similar to using A-frames but with less experienced or less secure riders the A-frame can cause the horse to overjump and unbalance the rider so using poles on the floor helps create the straitness without creating complications with the jump. Tramlines a couple of strides after a fence encourage a rider to carry on cantering after the fence and not jump and land in a heap. They can also be used when teaching a rider to ride dog legs, or other aspects of a course as it gives them a visual guide to help them see their lines.
Poles used as teaching aids are invaluable for teaching straightness, and should be used at every opportunity as visual aids are often much more easily understood than verbal directions, and the physical presence of poles helps show the horse what you want from them, which makes the learning process much easier for both horse and rider.