Brilliant exercises for those with little equipment and particularly for those who are on their own. You just need to set the four poles out before you get on, then all the exercises can be ridden without changing anything. You can get a good couple of 40min schooling sessions out of these and there is something here suitable for every horse, from wobbly baby to 4* hopeful. I generally set them out so that the centre of each pole lies on a 20m circle with a pole at each of the four compass points (or 3, 6, 9 and 12 o’clock if you prefer!), but you can adjust the diameter according to your arena size and the level of schooling of your horse.
Ride a circle round the outside of the poles. This can be done in walk, trot and canter and on both reins. As with all these exercises try to ensure a consistent curve through the horse’s body and don’t be tempted to use too much inside rein. More advanced horses can also ride a circle round the inside of the poles.
Ride the circle round the outside of the poles, but every time you pass a pole make a small circle round it. These can start off quite large and get smaller as your horse warms up. Again try to ensure a consistent bend through the body, prevent the shoulders falling out on the smaller circles and avoid overuse of the inside rein. Try opening the inside hand a little if necessary. This can be ridden in walk and trot on both reins, and also in canter on a more advanced horse.
Ride a ‘clover-leaf’ pattern concentrating on keeping the horse absolutely straight on the straight sections then allowing correct bend round the turns. Try to make sure the three-quarter circles in each corner are the same size and that you have control of the horse’s quarters when returning onto the straight line. This one is quite difficult to ride correctly and isn’t suitable for cantering! Again, ride in both directions.
Figure of 8 with a change of leg – ride this in canter, making the loops at either end equally sized. Depending on the stage of schooling of your horse change legs in the centre either through trot, walk (simple change) or make a flying change. Try to make your change (whichever sort you choose to do) exactly over the centre and keep the horse straight in its body through the change – no swinging its head and neck to the opposite side to make sure it strikes off correctly! Again, repeat on both reins.
Starting flying changes: This can be used to teach horses to change legs across the centre of the school. As the horse takes off over the pole push your new inside leg forward, new outside leg back, flex its head and neck slightly to the new direction and look in the direction you wish to go. Hopefully the horse will use the pole to make a nice neat change and land on the new leading leg. This is only suitable for more advanced horses who are adjustable in the canter.
Ride a large oval (with nice rounded half-circle ends, not pointy ones like in the diagram!) incorporating two of the poles. You can ride this in walk, trot or canter and on both reins. You can also change and ride over the other two poles instead which will give a slightly different exercise, as unless you have an enormous arena you will be restricted by the fence and have to ride more accurate half-circles without drifting. Make sure you stay straight before and after the poles and ride smoothly round the corners without letting the shoulders fall out.
Ride the circle incorporating all of the poles. This is seriously tricky to do accurately. As before you need to be constantly aware of the shoulders and quarters falling in and out and you’ll find that the poles come up very quickly. There are generally 3 or 4 canter strides between poles depending on the size of horse and size of circle. Try to hit each pole exactly in the centre and get the same number of strides round each quarter of the circle. Counting out loud is helpful!