Placing Poles – Friend or Foe?

Some placing poles were out by the jumps earlier this week so I made use of them.

They have their purpose, of course, but depending on you and your horse’s stage of training they can be a friend or foe.

The idea of placing poles is to position the horse in the ideal spot to jump. I do find that for green horses the poles can be off putting, so I prefer to use trot and canter poles separately to improve the actual gaits and then use the improved gait to a single fence. Then, if the young horse should have a wobble, or back off the fence, then they don’t need to worry about the pole as well as the jump. It doesn’t matter then if the horse goes on a long, or short, stride. When the horse is confident and more consistent over jumps then we can start to improve his technique and teach him where best to take off from.

I find placing poles most useful when teaching a more established horse and an inexperienced rider. The pole ensures a good jump; less chance of unbalancing the rider which means they don’t lose their position or pull on their horse’s mouth, and the rider learns to see a stride. The horse is also encouraged into a steadier gait and is less likely to rush the last few strides; overall creating a much nicer picture.

One horse that I school isn’t very confident over jumps, and likes to get quite close to the jumps. Ideally placing poles would be used to encourage her to stand off the fence, but because the mare lacks confidence she backs off fences with placing poles, so ends up jumping awkwardly. That doesn’t mean I won’t carry on using placing poles to help this horse. I will make sure that the pole is a bit closer than normal to the fence so that the horse learns that the pole won’t make jumping harder, and when she stops backing off I can roll it out slightly until it is best placed to have her jumping with a perfect take off point. Keeping the jump simple, an inviting cross, and not too big for her, will help keep her confident. To further her education I will introduce wide, low oxers to teach her to make a longer bascule, so that she doesn’t feel the need to jump in such a steep manner. Then hopefully the mare finds jumping easier, is more confident, strengthens her jumping muscles, and makes a better bascule. So long as placing poles are carefully used and don’t outface her, they will become her friend!

At the other end of the spectrum, another horse I ride has no concept of striding, and frequently scares the life out of me by taking a stride (or two!) out. At the moment I’m working her over canter poles so that she learns to wait and stops rushing through them. When she consistently does this and her overall canter is more balanced then I will build a jump at the end of the canter poles. Building grids with ground poles will make the mare pause and think, which will hopefully cause her to take her time into all jumps! I think it will be easier for this horse to adapt to placing poles than the first horse I described, but ultimately both will benefit from the use of placing poles.

I do find that in the wrong hands placing poles can do a lot of damage; from either being the wrong distance and negatively affecting the horse’s take off point and causing them to feel uncomfortable and subsequently lose confidence in their ability. But at the same time, a skilled trainer can vastly improve the way a horse jumps using the same concept. 

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