I’ve enjoyed playing around with a tricky exercise over trotting poles with several clients recently. No longer are they going in a straight line perpendicular over the poles, but rather riding a shallow loop over them.
I laid out about nine poles with a conservative distance and had my rider begin by trotting straight over the poles, centrally at first and then if I wanted to check their adaptability or accuracy, I had them trot over the left then right end of the poles. This is where coloured poles come in useful as they can aim for a specific band of colour.
Then I mark out a shallow loop over the poles using cones, or even potties. The markers need to be clearly seen above the poles. The diagram below shows the placing of the poles.
So that they don’t run before they can walk, I begin this next phase by asking them to trot from between the first set of markers to between the second set, and then straight over the second half of the poles. This is usually fairly straightforward, especially if we’ve started on their easy rein. The distance between the poles is now marginally longer because they’re riding the hypotenuse of a triangle, so stuffy horses sometimes need a wake up call and to be ridden with more leg to encourage the longer stride that is required. There’s an adaptability and balance question as they go through the second set of markers because they are changing their bend and line slightly, which is trickier for the horse and requires more rider balance when they have an increased cadence over the poles.
Once the first half of the loop is established, I ask the rider’s to ride from first set of cones to the second, then back to the third. This is when the horse’s balance and suppleness is really questioned. It usually takes a couple of goes to get the exercise correct. If a horse were to really struggle I’d add a couple of extra trot poles and another set of markers so that the change of bend happened over three poles rather than one, as show below.
To make it easier initially, the markers can be quite wide apart, and the loop more shallow. As they understand the exercise and improve the timing of their aids and accuracy, the shallow loop can become deeper with greater accuracy needed between the markers.
After riding the shallow loop over the poles on both reins it becomes apparent which is their more supple rein, as the increased cadence shows up any weaknesses in both their balance and range of movement.
The rider usually notices an improvement in the horse’s general way of going after this gymnastic exercise. I usually finish by trotting straight over the poles to rediscover straightness of both horse and rider, especially if they’ve found the exercise quite challenging. And then we play around with normal shallow loops, and my horses and riders are usually lighter and using their back muscles better.