I use this exercise with all of my horses to improve rhythm and suppleness in a way that improvement is easily measured.
Using 4 poles or jumps, I usually start with plain poles and then progress to small jumps or cavallettis. Set them out on at least a 20m circle (the bigger the circle the easier the exercise) and 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock.
I like to use this exercise a lot in the winter as its quite hard work for the horses. If they’re feeling fresh they can work really hard without having to spend hours in the school. With this in mind, especially when it’s cold, I find the horses benefit from getting into trot fairly quickly to loosen off and warm up.
To prepare the horse for the exercise ahead a 10-15min centred around stretching and bending with plenty of circles and serpentines so the horse gets used to bending around your inside leg. Changing the bend also helps get the horse listening and focusing on the riders aids. Towards the end of the warm-up I would include some lengthening and shortening of the canter to ensure the horse is accepting the leg and listening to the collection aids at this is important to complete the pole exercise.
Starting the exercise
To introduce the hose to the exercise I would start by trotting around the circle, over the poles, on both reins, focusing on going over the centre of each pole and maintaining the same trot the whole way around the circle.
Once you have achieved this in trot do the same in canter, making sure you can bring the horse’s outside shoulder around the circle , and go over the middle of each pole. Still focusing on maintaining the same canter. If you are unsure whether you are managing this an easy way of making sure if by counting the number of canter strides between each pole. If the canter rhythm is the same, and you are riding an even shaped circle, the horse should put the same number of strides between each pole.
Once you have achieved this you can either raise some or all of the poles to raised canter poles or you can play around with the adjustability of the canter by putting in more strides on the circle for a more collected canter, or less strides for a more open frame. All whilst still focusing on maintaining the rhythm and correct bend as before.
Once you have achieved what you aimed for in the session (which depends on your and your horse’s level of experience) it is time for the cool down. Usually the horse will have worked quite hard so it’s important to cool them down correctly. To do this I usually work the horse in a similar way to the warm up with lots of stretching and bending on large circles and serpentines.
It’s worthwhile noting if the horse now finds this easier having worked over the poles to see how the exercise has worked for the horse.