This is the final exercise in our series looking at how you can use poles to improve your dressage marks. I’m afraid this one assumes you a) have a decent amount of space and b) have a lot of poles. I know that’s not true for a lot of people, but you can modify it and improvise to make use of what you have got.
Week 4: Getting an Even Stride
This week’s exercise is all about generating and maintaining an even stride. It can be done with the poles as trotting poles or as canter poles, or a mix of the two, so don’t be afraid to play about with it.
First, lay out the poles as shown in the picture. Tip: If you don’t have quite this many poles, then use a variation depending on what you have available – for example you could just use the poles in a straight line, or you could have one set in a straight line and one on the curve.
Initially, go through the poles in a straight line – you’re aiming to let the first set of poles do the work in setting up an even stride pattern, maintaining that through the space to the middle set, riding accurately through the middle poles, then hitting the final line of poles at exactly the right spot so you maintain that even rhythm. This exercise tests whether your stride pattern is the same, or if you’re letting the horse get long and flat, or shortening him up too much. If you don’t hit either the middle poles or the exit poles at the right spot so it all flows, have a think about why – are you too close? If so, think about not letting your horse’s stride lengthen between the poles. Are you too far off so he has to stretch for them? Then try closing your leg as you exit the first line of poles.
You can then build up to coming through on a curve and exiting on a curve, or starting on a curve and exiting straight, or entering straight and exiting on a curve – every time, think about what the feeling you get says about the stride pattern between the poles.
Eventually, you can raise the middle pole at both ends, so your horse elevates his stride – can you still hit the poles in exactly the right spot?!