Tip of the Week!

   The Two Pole exercise

I stole this riding exercise from Ronnie Mutch (the best clinician I have ever had the privilege to ride under), many, many years ago.  All you need are two jump rails and ideally an arena.  Although you could perform it without one, it would be much more challenging.

Simply place a pole perpendicular to the arena fence at the end of the ring, then place the second pole about 30′ away from the other one. This number can vary greatly depending on the size and greeness of your horse. Start off with a greater distance between the poles if your horse is struggling to make the turn. Decrease the distance a bit as you have more success.

Warm your horse up well and begin by trotting the poles to familiarize your horse with the pattern.  I would start on my horses better side to give him the best shot at understanding the exercise.  Remember, they always follow the path of least resistance that’s our mantra!

At first you will find it difficult to get to the center of the pole.  Resist with the outside rein and leg if your horse is falling to the outside and remain in a sitting position.  Use your inside aids to help create straightness, we are not looking for an inside bend at this time. You will also find the distance to the pole changing each time you ride to it unless you and your horse are superstars in which case you probably don’t need to practice this particular exercise.

I want you to think about riding a rectangle not a circle.  Work on squaring your turns and using the entire space inside that rectangle.  As your horse becomes more comfortable with the pattern, start to shorten your reins and begin to ask for a steady collected canter.  Whether you ride it at a medium or  collected canter, the idea is to make each stride on the rectangle the same length.  As you accomplish this, you will start to reach a consistent distance to the pole each time and you will start to see the distance from further back as you trust the length of stride.  Change directions when your horse has a few good rounds so he is rewarded for his efforts.  Always stay aware of your horses physical state.  Is he breathing easily, not becoming tired, starting to trip etc.

When you are able to travel your rectangle several times in a row in both directions, with a consistent canter, no swerving, no missed distances to the pole, you have succeeded!  What have you and your horse learned from this exercise?  Would really like to hear your answers!!

Ronnie loved to keep things straight forward and simple. Just the way a horse likes it! I thank you for your time Mr. Mutch.  The horse world is all the better for you having been it.

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4 comments on “Tip of the Week!

  1. CHG says:

    Ooooo… I like this! It is similar to an exercise I am working on right now. It’s one of those that looks so simple but is really tough! One thing I found about an exercise like this is that not only does it test your straightness and pace control, in doing it, it gets your horse REALLY engaged behind.

    My guy is so lazy! And when doing an exercise similar to this, he HAS to engage his back end more to maintain our pace and to make the turns. I love how he feels after doing it! His trot feels fantastic when we break down to it for a little stretch at the end.

    I love your site! I’ll be visiting it often!

    • Great response! You gave readers even more to think about. The square turns combined with the poles are very effective in getting a horse on his hind end. The horse naturally begins to set him self up for the turn and with your help, maintains that balanced canter to the pole, the next turn etc. One of the many things I like about this deceivingly simple exercise, is how tall and deep in the saddle the rider becomes and how they develop PATIENCE to the pole (jump). Partly because they have worked so hard to develop that great rhythm but also because the exercise demands it in order to achieve success! Thanks for reading and writing. I enjoy your blog too!

  2. Jane says:

    You know, I think this is applicable to dressage also? When I’m actively trying NOT to make an oblong, amorphous circle, I visualize a 20 M circle split into four quadrants, and try for the same number of strides in each quadrant. (it usually doesn’t go all that well). The poles would give my mental image actual weight, and my horse something to hang onto while we figure it out. He’ll focus on the poles, and be less likely to think: “and we are going around for the thousandth time, why?” Love it! Thank you!

    • Hi Jane,
      I am glad you find this exercise useful. Your comment about it being applicable to dressage leads me to speak on the subject of basic riding skills. I grew up on the east coast and when I moved to the west in my early 20’s and began teaching, I was frequently asked if I had a background in dressage. I would answer “no” but it made me think about why people thought I had. I realized as I compared different instructors styles of riding and teaching that what many hunter riders considered to be dressage was what I considered basic balanced riding. I was lucky to have grown up in a horse environment where having your horse on the bit, doing lateral work and so on, was simply how we were taught to ride. We were highly motivated to develop these skills in part because we weren’t allowed to jump until we could perform them consistently. I’m thinking we should create a forum for this topic. Thanks Jane!

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