The varied uses of pole-work in training

There are countless ways in which you can include pole-work in your horse's training, whether you are riding or working with him on the ground. Grand Prix dressage rider Hannah Biggs shows how to improve a youngsters' trot with poles, top Chinese eventer Alex Hua Tian uses poles to engage an older event horse who's on the stiff side, behaviourists Kelly Marks and Sarah Fisher demonstrate ground work using poles to teach a horse to back-up and for dealing with problem horses. Fascinating stuff and some great (as well as simple) ideas to try at home.

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Engagement through pole-work with Alex Hua Tian Engagement through pole-work with Alex Hua Tian
Chinese event rider Alex Hua Tian, made his Olympic debut in Beijing, age 18. Working at home with Irish Fiddle (who has recently returned from a year off) Alex explains he's naturally a lazy horse who is long in the back and stiff. As a result, Fiddle finds it difficult to engage on the flat and is not keen on his dressage, though he is a superb jumper. Alex says it's better to find an exercise that which will achieve collection, engagement and softness than get into conflict. So he begins with a line of poles set at one stride and progresses to poles on a circle. Alex finishes with raised poles on a circle, while Fiddle is soft and happy in his work!

Hannah Biggs improves Funky's trot with pole work
Funky is rising five and still very green in his dressage training. He has a powerful canter but his trot isn't as impressive. Hannah Biggs uses a poles to improve the pace. In her warmup she focuses the forward going Funky on suppleness, varying his head and neck position and ensuring the power goes up and into the hand. Beginning with poles on the ground, she then raises the ends of alternate poles, which encourages Funky to lift his shoulders and use his back end. Widening the distances, Hannah raises both ends of some of the poles and finally places them back on the ground, but at wider distances. The result is a noticeably improved trot!

Precision backing-up, with Kelly Marks Precision backing-up, with Kelly Mark
Horse behaviourist, Kelly Marks, demonstrates the art of backing-up a horse easily and safely. Using her own horse, Pie, she also shows an advanced backing-up exercise and explains that backing-up is an important step to being able to load a horse successfully into a horsebox or trailer. We'll have to wait to find out more about that in due course!

Sarah Fisher re-trains Barney who is dangerous to ride

Barney has become too dangerous to ride, namely spooking, spinning and bolting. Behaviourist Sarah Fisher has taken him in a last ditch attempt to solve his problems. She identifies his 'cold patches' and explains how she is working with postural issues to help to restore his self confidence and self control. Using a variety of unusual equipment including body wraps and a 'wand', Sarah shows us a series of ground exercises that enable her to identify the smallest reactions thus avoiding panic situations! Sarah long reins Barney through an array of obstacles and he copes really well, in spite of the weather! An amazing video full of unique insights.

Kelly Marks' training put to the test!
When we filmed the Kelly Marks training series, Kelly challenged us to try her methods out on our own horses. So we did and we found them to be very useful! Fiona Price's eventer, Norris, was the guinea pig and this video shows the results. You should watch Kelly Marks on 'obedience in hand', 'standing & waiting' and 'precision backing' (in the training category of the Library) before this one, ideally. What a sweety pie! (That's Norris we are talking about.)

Barney revisited: an update with Sarah Fisher
Behaviourist Sarah Fisher updates us on Barney's progress. A month ago, Barney was dangerous and unrideble. In the second Horse Hero video about his rehabilitation, Sarah's unconventional methods have reformed him and made him noticeably happier. Sarah explains that the initial ground work has been repeated with tack on, is now being repeated with a rider and finally without the help of a handler. Barney copes with the labyrinth, scary plastic and the pole noodles! Sarah tells us why it's necessary to stop before and after each obstacle and how to pick up on all the clues which give us an indication as to how Barney is feeling.

Buddy Holly lunges over poles to improve his balance
Mike gives a masterly demonstration of lunging the four year old Rochelle, daughter of Rockstar, in preparation for riding. The aim is to find out about her mood and determine the best time to get on. Mike explains how to read Rochelle's body language and what signs to look for to know if she is showing her true colours. He offers essential safety advice and tips to ensure the horse has a calm and positive experience of lunging. Mike says, "it’s vital to be in charge of the little things, so the horse feels you own 51% of the shares!" He also stresses the need to give lunging your full attention and explains what it teaches you about your horse.

Buddy Holly learns balance in the cross-roads exercise
Horse behaviourist Sarah Fisher works with Horse Hero's Fiona Price and the 3 year old Buddy Holly. Sarah says, "the cross-roads exercise will help to mature Buddy's body and his brain". She adds, "it gives variety to the training and helps the horse and rider to focus". Fiona begins in walk and progresses to trot and canter. Buddy noticeably improves the organisation of his body over the poles. Sarah says that "a horse out of balance does things at speed, while a horse that can do things slowly has mastered the art of co-ordination." Sarah also helps Fiona with the very start of leg-yield, filmed before the dressage lesson on this with Hannah Biggs.

Eventer Wayne Garrick trains 5 year old Fabulous on pole-work Eventer Wayne Garrick trains 5 year old Fabulous on pole-work
Event rider Wayne Garrick trains the 5 year old dressage horse Fabulous over poles for the first time. The focus is on going forwards and remaining straight. Fabulous is un-coordinated initially but gradually works out what is required over one pole, two poles on a bend and a line of poles. "Changing the rein changes everything" says Wayne. Working over poles shows up weaknesses in balance, carriage and straightness, and going from trot to canter alters the task again. "Repetition doesn't make perfect, it makes permanent" Wayne says, "so ask consistently until you get the right answer". Fabulous shows a significant improvement.


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