A Polework Exercise 

Last weekend I did a polework clinic for the riding club. Polework is becoming increasingly popular, and I have to say they are enjoyable lessons to teach. Plus, using the poles for two or three hours is far more satisfying than just the one lesson.

As I had a variety of horses and riders I decided to layer the exercises, so riders could opt to stay at the easier level if it suited their horse, or progress to slightly more challenging exercises.

Let me describe the layout, and by popular request I will do a diagram.

I had a jumping arena to use, so it was roughly 30m x 60m, giving me plenty of space and I left the outer track clear. At each end I laid out four poles on a 20m circle. Then down the three quarter line, in line with a pole on each circle, I did five trotting poles on one side and three canter poles on the other side. I put wings on alternate sides of the trot and canter poles, and put wings on the inside of each pole on the circle.


Automatically I had two levels of exercise; raised poles, or poles on the ground.


Each set of poles can be worked with independently, or linked together to add an extra level of difficulty.

The poles of the circle improve suppleness, ability, strength of the inside hind, and check the effectiveness of the rider’s outside aids. Riding to the outer edge of the circle makes a 20m circle, whilst riding closer to the middle is a 15m circle and more difficult for the horse. So within my lessons, the riders could adapt the one exercise to their ability by the size of the circle.

The poles on the circle can be raised to increase flexion of the inside hock, improve flexibility, suppleness and balance. I raised one circle, so I could accommodate both levels of horse.

Using the two circles you could ride a figure of eight going across the diagonal from circle to circle. This improves the horse’s ability to change their bend. You can also ride one circle in trot and one in canter, thus adding in a transition to further the exercise.

Now let’s look at the poles. I only raised the trotting poles as the horses had enough to think about without raising the canter poles. Once the horse is comfortable with the poles on their own you can start to have some fun.

The circles can be linked together via the three-quarter line poles to make a course.

These are the courses I used and the benefits:

  1. Trot the circle of raised poles, trot the raised trotting poles, canter the circle of ground poles. The elevated trot strides should improve the canter. You want to aim to get a clear transition, which should feel more active due to the increased engagement.
  2. Canter the circle of ground poles, trot the trotting poles, trot the circle of raised poles. For horses who run down into trot this course makes them and their ridersthink because they haven’t got time to waste in a sloppy trot otherwise the trot poles go everywhere. Downward transitions then become more balanced and clearer.
  3. Canter the circle of ground poles, canter the canter poles, trot the circle of raised poles. Again, you need a crisp, balanced transition into trot in order to negotiate the raised poles.
  4. Ride clockwise over the circle of raised poles in trot, change the rein across the diagonal, making a canter transition ready to ride anti-clockwise around the circle of ground poles before returning across the diagonal and trotting in preparation for the clockwise circle. You can progress to riding both circles in canter, and having both circles with raised poles. You’re looking to have clear transitions straight into a balanced gait, with no anticipation from the horse so that they negotiate the poles easily.
  5. Trot one of the circles (it will depend which rein you’re on) canter upon leaving the circle, over the canter poles, make a transition to trot before the next circle. Again, transitions need to be clear and the horse shouldn’t rush the canter poles.
  6. Canter one circle, trot upon leaving the circle, trot the trotting poles, canter the next circle. 
  7. Trot on circle, as you leave it ride a walk or halt transition. Ride back into trot ready for the trot poles. Ride another transition between the trot poles and next circle. The same can be done over the canter poles.

Putting all these exercises together keeps the horses on their toes; they can’t anticipate or rush because the poles will cause problems. They also have to work hard in staying balanced through the transitions, which helps improve the quality of the gaits, improve the rhythm and suppleness. 

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