I went into the arena yesterday and it looked like there had been a giant game of pick-up sticks. With no clear winner as far as I could tell.
I schooled around the poles, using the odd relevant pole and then later in the day I saw the designer of the pick-up sticks using them, and it made perfect sense. It was actually a very good exercise if you knew what you were doing.
The exercise, pictured below, worked on the canter rhythm and balance over and between poles, and changing canter leads over poles, so it is a good progressive exercise for teaching flying changes.
Firstly, the circle of four poles can be ridden to establish rhythm, bend and balance over poles. You want to aim to meet each pole in the middle, with four strides between each pole. Strides over the poles shouldn’t be any different to normal strides, and each stride should be the same size.
Next you can work on the related distances. There are the straight line related distances, with six canter strides between each pole. Again, you’re looking for regulatory of the canter and for the horse to stay relaxed and consistent in their frame.
There is also a related distance of a dog leg. It’s on eight strides, and you’re looking for a smooth line, rhythm, balance and regular strides.
These are the basic elements of the exercise, but the next step involves asking for a flying change and changing bend in various places.
The obvious route that involves a change of lead is to ride the circle of poles, ask for a flying change over the pole that is central in my diagram and ride the four strides to the pole on the left of the diagram (which conveniently is involved in the straight line related distance). It took me a while to twig as to the reason there is a pole at ninety degrees to the “change” pole. But it’s to stop you drifting out over the pole and to help the horse stay straight and so be able to change their legs easily.
The next way you can practice your flying changes is on the angles poles when riding the dog legs.
When all of this is perfected, they can be strung together to make the exercise harder by have the changes more frequently, which requires a greater degree of balance and coordination from the horse.
Give it a go and let me know how you get on, I found it really useful when I tried it with a horse today. He can do the changes over the poles but struggles with the consistency of the canter so it was great to be able to make the exercise difficult on different levels.