Photo by Erin Gilmore photography.
In this excerpt from her book Pilates for Horses, certified Pilates instructor and eventer Laura Reiman explains one exercise she uses to improve her horse’s strength, mobility, and performance.
Exercise: Ground Poles on a Bend at the Trot
Ask your horse to trot evenly over 2–6 ground poles spaced roughly 4–4 ½ feet apart (at the center) in a fan or half-circle shape on the longe line.
- Creates flexion of the stifle and suppleness throughout the body, especially in the neck and ribs.
- The outside muscles stretch while the inside ribs and haunches contract and work.
- Trot poles improve mobility of the limbs and target the larger back muscles, engaging the spinal stabilizers and releasing the extensor muscle chain.
- Engages the quadriceps and increases pelvic stability.
- Engages the core.
- Helps create a clear rhythm and stride length for the horse as he navigates the poles.
- Poles give sensory feedback to the horse to lift his legs, reprograming the nervous system and helping to correct gait abnormalities.
1. Place 2–6 poles in a fan shape on a half circle, 4–4 1/2 feet apart in the middle of each pole.
2. Start by warming the horse up at the walk and trot on a 20-meter circle, 5–10 minutes in each direction, near the poles but not over them.
3. After warming up, move the longe circle toward the poles and aim your horse over the middle of each pole at the trot. Repeat the exercise 4–6 times before moving the longe circle away from poles to give your horse a rest.
4. Reverse and repeat 3–5 times.
Common Issues and Precautions
- Aim for the middle of each pole. If the horse is struggling with spacing, make the circle slightly smaller or push the circle wider to adjust.
- Use leg protection, like boots or wraps.
- Don’t overdo this exercise and make it monotonous. Keep it short and sweet to get the most benefit.
- If your horse is lacking strength or balance, try placing three poles in a straight line instead of on a curve and allow him to navigate the poles while going straight, turning before and after the poles to complete the longe circle.
Tips for Success
- Your job is to ask for a steady rhythm and guide your horse to the center of the poles. Your horse’s job is to lift his legs and navigate over the poles.
- Encourage a long-and-low headset.
- Maintain steady contact with the longe line.
- Try to maintain a consistent tempo—working but not rushing—and small inside bend.
- Start with fewer poles and add more to increase difficulty.
- Try setting up ground poles at walking distance on the inside/closer track over the poles and trotting distance over the middle or outside track so you can work through both gaits.
- You can also set up two circles of poles near each other and move between the two to work at both the walk and trot.
- For an advanced exercise, pull 1–2 poles out of the pattern. The horse must then maintain the rhythm without every pole still being in place as a guide.