A Christmas Cracker

For anyone feeling festively proactive, here’s a fun polework exercise I did with Phoenix this week.

It’s not the easiest to see in the grass, but I had a bit more space in the jumping paddock and it makes a nice change from the four fences of the arena at this time of year, it is shaped like a Christmas cracker. With ground conditions I did make it into a trot exercise, but by adjusting the distances between the poles in the middle, it can become a canter exercise.

I used five trot poles (4’6ish depending on your horse’s stride length) along the middle, with poles perpendicular to the ends. From the last poles I laid two more diagonally to form a triangle, and then two more to so that the point of the triangle became a cross. I’ll get a diagram …

Maybe I need a drone to take images of my exercises from the air … I’m afraid you’ll have to put up with my dodgy sketching on my phone because I am not getting up, risking waking the baby, and losing the only lie in we have booked this week just to get some paper. I’m already annoyed that I didn’t sleep beyond seven!

There are many ways to use this arrangement of poles. Ultimately the only limitation is your imagination!

I began by walking over the centre of the cross of four poles because Phoenix was quite suspicious of them and it took her a couple of attempts to walk straight over the centre and not wiggle around it. I approached from all sides, so either walked the full length of the cracker, or just went across the short side. When I started trotting it, I did the short sides first so she only had to concentrate on the cross on the floor and could get it right.Trotting the full length of the cracker, with the two crosses to keep you straight is a good check of their straightness and the trot poles improve their rhythm, stride length, cadence as well. You could raise these using caveletti blocks to engage their abdominals a bit more. I didn’t because this polework arrangement is the most complicated I’ve done with Phoenix and she found it hard enough to stay balanced over the trot poles and go straight over the crosses before and after without trying to jump them!

You can also trot across the cracker, so you are using the trotting poles as tramlines, which also helps straightness. Adding in a halt transition between them helps improve your straightness through transitions and can stop any cheeky horse from swinging their quarters.

Finally, the ends of the cracker are useful for introducing poles on a curve. This is not something I’ve done a huge amount of with Phoenix – usually it’s on the lunge and using the corner of the arena to support her – so it was a good test of her balance and suppleness. I trotted arcs of various sizes across the two poles at either end in both directions. On the right rein, where she sometimes resists bending through her whole body, she just loaded her right shoulder over the second pole. But by exaggerating the right bend before the poles and ensuring she was listening to my inside leg she started to maintain the correct bend poll to tail over the two poles. I kept the arcs a bit bigger on the right rein until she’d succeeded in staying balanced. I’m definitely thinking of doing more poles on a curve with her in the next couple of weeks as this felt like her weakest area.

Have fun with this Christmas Cracker polework, and if you crack it in trot, adjust the poles so you can do it in canter and that will really test your ability to ride straight!

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