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The Benefits of Pole Work Sessions

Updated: Sep 6, 2021

Many of our equine clients will already be familiar with the use of poles for our horses. Equine Pole Work sessions are a great way of keeping things varied for our horses but are you aware of the added benefits of using poles in your ridden and in-hand sessions? Have a look at how using pole work exercises for horses can help your own horse.

Adjustability within the gaits

Teaching a horse to adjust their gait allows them to make quick changes about the speed that they are going at and how much they need to extend or collect their limbs to undertake a task. This can be as simple as poles being closer together. The horse needs to process the distance between the poles and lift their legs up quicker. Equally, if the poles are spaced further apart, they will need to lengthen their stride to make up for that extra distance. This is teaching the horse to adjust their own gait.

Developing core strength, stability and symmetry

I know we hark on about symmetry of riders, but horses are usually pretty wonky too. This isn’t necessarily abnormal, but we can help with making them more symmetrical, which in turn will make their jobs much easier and will hopefully make them less likely to pick up an injury. When we ask our horses to do pole work, it is important that we do everything equally in each direction. Sometimes your clinician will suggest doing an exercise in one direction more than another but generally everything is done equally to create symmetry.

Core strength and stability are pretty much the same thing. A horse needs core strength to be able to lift its back to work those topline muscles and to carry their riders. They also need core strength to be able to walk in a straight line! Stability comes from having good, strong core muscles. Saggy core muscles aren’t helpful to creating a strong back either. Think of pole exercises as Pilates for horses!

Improving proprioception

First things first, because you’re all thinking it, aren’t you? Proprioception? What on earth is that?

“Proprioception, or kinesthesia, is the sense that lets us perceive the location, movement, and action of parts of the body. It encompasses a complex of sensations, including perception of joint position and movement, muscle force, and effort. These sensations arise from signals of sensory receptors in the muscle, skin, and joints, and from central signals related to motor output. Proprioception enables us to judge limb movements and positions, force, heaviness, stiffness, and viscosity. It combines with other senses to locate external objects relative to the body and contributes to body image. Proprioception is closely tied to the control of movement.” J.L. Taylor, in Encyclopedia of Neuroscience, 2009

Proprioception is basically hoof-eye coordination and our horse’s ability to judge where their limbs are moving and what they are doing. This part is important to us are riders because if our horses haven’t a clue what their bodies are doing, we’re the ones that are going to end up on the floor.

Balance, Coordination and ROM

ROM is Range of Movement. See, that one wasn’t as difficult to explain as Proprioception, was it? When we ask our horses to move over poles, we are asking them to extend, move and collect their limbs up in a different way. Sometimes, this is lifting their legs higher to walk over raised poles, sometimes this is asking them to move their limbs to the left or right over poles on the ground. Whenever we ask a horse to move over a pole, no matter what direction this may be, we are increasing their range of movement.

Coordination also comes into this a little too. Horses generally do not want to touch poles. Yes, there are some that scatter poles like skittles but generally, horses are biddable animals that do not want their legs touching anything. Those of us who own horses who have been subjected to Crisp Monsters in the hedge will know this all too well. Poles help to develop a horse’s coordination, by teaching them where each limb is at which point, so as not to touch those poles, and this then helps with a whole host of other things that we ask our horses to do.

We'll go into this further at some point in the not-so-distant-future.

Provides mental stimulation

Mental stimulation is the feeling we have when we feel like we are being challenged by something. You know that feeling when you’re really having to think about something. The same thing does happen with horses. Mental stimulation provides the horse with something to think about and keeps their workload a little more interesting. Now that the evenings are starting to draw in and opportunities for going for a quick post-work hack are out of the question, pole work can keep things a little more interesting for our equine friends.

Next week, we’ll be looking at how to do pole exercises and what you’ll need to be able to achieve various patterns and what each exercise can do for your horse. So, watch this space!

Want to know more? Book into one of our Rider Analysis Clinics at Rufford, where we’ll show you exactly what to do with poles and how they can benefit your horse as an individual. Our popular clinics with Sune & Hannah are great for clients who would like a more tailored approach to their pole work sessions with their horse.

Have a great weekend everyone and enjoy the rest of our so-called Summer!

Sune & Team 😊


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