As underage equestrian competition activity remains suspended in the Republic of Ireland under current COVID-19 restrictions, now is a good time for riders to get back to basics to make sure they are ready for the ring when competition resumes.

Pole work is an excellent way of improving your horse’s general way of going, as well as adding variety to your normal flatwork routine.

Using poles to improve the walk

For dressage, a good walk is very important for picking up some extra marks. Walking over poles can help your horse’s co-ordination and improve the four-beat sequence and rhythm of the pace.

Space poles out at a distance that is comfortable for your horse. If you want to encourage your horse to lengthen or shorten their stride while keeping the correct rhythm, you can adjust the spacing between the poles to help this.

Poles can be placed in a straight line or on a curve around your arena or field and can be incorporated into your warm up and flatwork session.

Using poles to improve the trot

Using poles in trot can be very effective at teaching the horse to lengthen their stride while keeping their rhythm consistent.

Some horses who do not have a natural medium trot can learn to extend their strides in this way, especially when loose-schooled or lunged over poles.

Poles can also encourage the horse to look down to gauge their footing. That causes them to round over the back, lifting the strides, and giving the way of going more fluency and expression.

You can leave the poles flat on the ground or raise them slightly at one end, or both, to make the exercise more difficult. Trotting over poles in this way can also help to increase activity and engagement.

As the horse lifts their feet over the poles, they will be flexing his leg joints. For this reason, pole work can be very therapeutic for horses with stiff joints or short, tight tendons and ligaments that restrict movement.

In trot work, always use even numbers of poles to be sure that your horse exercises each pair of legs equally.