Though my jumping days are long behind me, I can still have fun with ground poles. While for years I used old fence posts and plastic PVC pipes as walk-over poles, I was excited over Winter to finally buy my own set of four “real” trail poles.
Of course, the pattern possibilities with only four poles are limited. But that’s probably just as well. If I had like twenty poles in my possession, and designed an interesting pattern, I would likely be too tired and sore to ride after laying them all out!
I find that Pinterest is a great place to accumulate sample ground pole patterns, even if you only have a few poles like me. In my Pinterest Horse Trail Obstacles board, I now have a section within that board titled Ground Pole Patterns and Exercises. Check it out to spark your own ground pole imagination.
But I don’t think you need to design elaborate patterns to have your horse benefit from ground poles. Over the four years I’ve had Shiloh, he’s gone from almost falling over the first time we tried to clear one ground pole to walking over a line of four ground poles, trotting over a ground pole and walking over a stack of three ground poles (my version of a raised ground pole).
For Shiloh, periodic ground pole work has helped him to
-stop pacing so much both in the walk and gait
-think about his hoof placement rather than mindlessly shuffle around
-practice adjusting his stride
-gently flex and bend his muscles and tendons (instead of moving so stiffly which is intertwined with that tendency to pace)
-get the feel of extending his neck forward (rather than inverting Camel-like).
Here’s Shiloh on the first day of traveling over a little ground pole stack. I was concerned he wouldn’t quite be able to coordinate his body to adjust for the raised height, but I underestimated my pony. Good job, Shiloh.
As for Piper, I’ve only had him just under a year now. I have not yet been able to make a lot of changes to his way of going. Not really sure how much difference my average-at-best level of riding skill is going to be able to make with a 21-year-old horse who is croup-high in his conformation and noticeably moves downhill.
In looking through media of a recent ride, for example, I can see moments when he is not totally on the forehand and we are trying to bend in the direction we are going.
But we still have moments that look like this one below. I find it fascinating how a horse’s body outline can look so different depending upon how they are being ridden. Here I loose his hind end. The sensation is that of following Piper down into a hole as all his weight goes onto his front. Have I mentioned before that I struggle with positively influencing a horse’s balance?
Despite these issues, I’ve seen improvement in how Piper now crosses ground poles.
Here are two videos for a “compare and contrast.” The first clip was taken in October 2021. Not the smoothest crossing. A crossing that also shows how much I was still struggling to encourage him to take up the rein contact and not curl behind it (you may recall in a previous post that I wrote about switching to a bitless bridle for a while to help him lessen this tendency). The second clip was taken August 2022. A smoother crossing, even when done on purpose at an angle (which is a little more challenging than approaching a ground pole straight on).
Sure, both Shiloh and Piper still tick ground poles from time to time. Or they might arrive with a hoof a little too close to the pole or whatnot. Nevertheless, their improvements with the pole exercises are encouraging for me to experience.
How about you? Do you enjoy working with ground poles? What is your favorite type of pole pattern or design?
2 thoughts on “Fun with Ground Poles”
Amber is a bit of a clutz in the arena but she’s very very careful when we head for a trail, so I’ve split the difference haha. I can’t do too many ground poles with her now due to her old knee injury and its growing arthritis, but I loved doing poles set up as very large squares. I’d do random patterns throughout, but it really helped both Amber and Whisper work on their western pleasure trot. Those can get “shuffley” over time, and the poles helped them lift, be purposeful in their footsteps, and keep the same pace while maintaining the lift for sharper but cleaner turns. It also helped with their cone serpentines lol. We don’t do much of that anymore, but I liked that aspect of it!
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I know what you mean about the shuffle western pleasure trot, in that they aren’t really picking up their hooves very much. Kind of similar to a gaited horse who paces instead of doing a signature gait. They just sort of stiffly slide their hooves across the ground. Poles are so helpful for those issues, I think, without the rider having to make a big deal about it. I enjoy seeing those types of changes in a horse where they seem to develop more awareness of their hoof placement and rhythm. Pretty cool stuff!
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