No Time for Ground Poles? Think Again
By Jec A. Ballou
After several years of traveling around giving clinics in which I teach riders to use ground poles in their regular schooling, I have arrived at a fact: most riders quickly understand the gymnastic benefits of group poles, but they will not incorporate them on a consistent basis. It’s not because they are rebelling against my advice but because poles can be a hassle to drag out and set up every day.
Honestly, though, a decent ground pole lesson does not need to be elaborate or complicated. In many cases, you can even forego using bulky risers to elevate them off the ground but still make fitness gains. This makes the set-up much easier, especially when using just four poles. I will recommend and explain the most effective exercises using just four poles that are quick and easy to set up. Some of these are found in my books, others are new bonus routines appearing only on this blog.
Today’s exercise is the Adjustability Circle. It improves your horse’s balance and quality of movement in a few ways. First, crossing over the poles causes him to fire up the muscles that form the hammock of his thoracic sling. This helps cushion and elasticize his strides, which translates to smoother, more graceful movement. Second, the prescribed quadrants of the circle in this pattern help get both horses and riders locked in to a very steady rhythm of gait. Rhythm, as we have all experienced, forms a primary organizing effect in the body. In other words, it cleans up sloppy, wobbly motions.
Finally, by having to step over a pole occasionally – but not in a predictable sequence – you override the horse’s central pattern generator, which interrupts him from blundering along in a gait pattern without brain-to-hoof communication. Think of it as rebooting his computer every dozen or strides. There are several ways to vary the following routine. You can ride it at different gaits and speeds. You can throw in some transitions between gaits at random points. As is, the exercise will offer plenty of benefits on its own, so don’t feel like you need to get too creative. Just know that if this routine becomes one you do frequently, you can add variety to keep things fresh.
- Envision your 20-meter circle as a clock face and place a ground pole at 12noon, 3pm, 6pm, and 9pm.
- Now ride your horse in a lively working trot around your circle, crossing over the middle of each pole as you come to it.
- Count your strides between each pole; you should have the same stride count if you are riding correctly in rhythm.
- Be sure to keep your horse bent around your inside leg for the duration of the circle, even when crossing poles.
- Look ahead, keep a light contact with the reins, and smile.
For further description about the physical benefits of exercises like this one, check out my books.
Photo: Shutterstock/AnnaElizabeth Photography