J.P. and I have had quite the eventful past few months! She’s recovered from a laceration that required a six-month hand walking regimen, had an aggressive 10-day Lyme Disease treatment, waddled through swollen stifles that needed three weeks to recover, survived a diet change, and managed a puffy digital flexor tendon. After all that, my vet has now given me the go ahead to start riding her again with restrictions. So how do you keep a 14-year-old, highly spirited, athletic Thoroughbred sane enough to be ridden at the walk and trot after nearly eight months of no work? Ground poles, and lots of them!
These are five of my favorite ground pole exercises. They’re great to use on your own or even with your barn buddies, and you can combine anything to make a course out of it. If your horse is recovering like mine, don’t forget to work with your veterinarian or trainer to determine what types of exercises are best for your horse’s individual needs.
There’s a couple of things you can do with the square: you can walk across the center of the poles, or enter through the corner and exit diagonally on the other side. Stopping in the middle, practicing turns on the haunches or forehand, and backing in and/or out of the square are also encouraged. To encourage better listening to my leg, I personally like to make a circle in each corner of the square, making the circle sizes vary with each pass.
Poles that are set in a straight line are a great way to encourage more action and swing from the shoulders and hind end, encouraging a more active stifle and knee. I found this was a great way to warm up and focus on keeping forward impulsion, rhythm, and straightness. I always try to use at least five poles when using this sort of set up. I also enjoy doing serpentines between the poles to mix things up a bit.
The Semi-Circle is a fun and challenging way to encourage J.P. to loosen up through the shoulders and take up the outside rein. I can move her closer to the middle at a slower gait or push her toward the outer edge for a longer stride. I also work on varying speeds, like collecting the gait while not working over the poles and extending it once we get to the poles.
The Five-Point X:
The Five-Point X is one that I tackle a few ways. I can do an oval, hitting two on the same long side and the one in the middle, I can hit three going across the diagonal, I can do just two on the short side, or just one by itself. This exercise encourages attentiveness from your horse as steering is of the essence here!
The Yielding Poles are done by aiming for the middle of each pole while focusing on maintaining straightness. If you measured out to get four lateral steps between pole sets, challenge yourself by asking for three or five! Because J.P. has a bit of an anticipating personality, I like to break up this exercise some by either doing one diagonal pair at a time straight on, or circling one pole at a time at random.
Any of these exercises can be done at a walk, trot, or canter in a collected or forward manner, whether they’re 2’ tall or on the ground. For now, J.P. and I are sticking with walking and trotting poles on the ground until we’re cleared for canter work. With these exercises, J.P. is not only a happy camper at the end of our rides, but she is supple, attentive, and adjustable (all things that are necessary to be a successful hunter!).
These pole exercises aren’t the only ways that I’ve kept J.P. happy and healthy during her recovery – I’m also super thankful for her SmartPaks! SmartTranquility Pellets have helped keep her level-headed during the excitement of going back to work, and SmartTendon Pellets give me confidence that her tendons and ligaments are getting the support they need.
While J.P.’s SmartPaks are hard at work supporting her from the inside, I also like to make sure that I’ve got her covered from the outside. She can be a bit of an over-achiever, so I always use leg protection whenever she’s working. Along with front boots for protection, we ride with KL Select Italian Bell Boots so we don’t have to see our amazing farrier more than we should. I also use the EquiFit Pastern Wraps to protect the delicate pastern area on her hind legs in case of a goofy moment.