Did anybody else practice dressage trainer and author, Jec A Ballou’s, pole straddle exercise with their horse this winter?
I previously included a video link to the exercise in a blog post at https://thebackyardhorseblog.com/2020/12/16/what-to-do-on-a-warm-winter-day/.
Shiloh can straddle a ground pole with his front two hooves pretty well. But he is not as keen on placing the back two hooves on either side of the pole. He, ninety-nine percent of the time, prefers to keep both hind hooves on the same side of the pole.
I’ve gotten Shiloh to straddle the pole with all four hooves a grand total of exactly once, with his legs splayed out awkwardly to each side. He looked like he was trying to make an A with each pair of legs.
As we negotiate the exercise, it is fascinating to watch Shiloh think about where he might be able to put his four legs. Shiloh knows the ground pole is there, but he can’t keep it in his view very well. His movements are exaggerated with lots of picking up his legs rather high off the ground. He then slowly places them down as he feels for the ground around the pole. I can see the wheels turning in his horse brain as he tries to figure out the puzzle.
Even if we don’t perform quite like the example video referenced above, just the act of thinking through the exercise is really good practice for Shiloh. Asking him for brief bits of intense concentration while he moves very precisely seems good for a horse who mostly just prefers to stroll along.
It is also good practice for me to attempt to convey my intent of the exercise as helpfully as possible to Shiloh while also maintaining an air of relaxation and playfulness so he doesn’t get worried. There’s an interesting aspect of both physical balance and mental balance that seems inherent in negotiating the pole at this angle.
I definitely have respect for the exercise itself and for any horse-handler combo that can make it look easy.