Focus On The Poles – February Exercise 1

It has been forever since I have had the time to sit down and put together some of the exercises I have been doing with Dante over the past few weeks. Dante is on a 7 day working schedule and for our flat/pole days and likewise on our jumping days I like to be prepared with what I am doing so that our time isn’t wasted in the arena.

For the month of February, I shall be sharing with you guys a weekly exercise, a mixture of flatwork & poles, and some jumping exercises also. We are on lockdown here in Ireland, so I hope it is something you can do or use as motivation to get you through your week with your horse.

Keep scrolling below to see the layout and “how to” on this weeks exercise. There is also a video over on our Instagram page on how Dante rode the exercise, be sure to check it out.

The Set Up

For this exercise, see the set image below. You can use it as a flat polework exercise, or if you are feeling brave or as you progress over a few days you can turn them all into jumps. I never walked the distances out between to outer canter poles, this was in order for me to be able to adjust Dante to the stride I wanted him to do.

The trot poles in the middle are 5 heel to toe footsteps between, with the middle pole raised. These can be adjusted to 4/4.5 steps for smaller horses or ponies.

How To Ride This Exercise

  1. As always, I advise that a good warm up is done prior to partaking in any of our exercises. For this exercise I focused a lot on transition work with Dante very helpful before we began, also making sure he was moving forward from my leg.
  2. This exercise can be ridden in sections first before progressing to one large exercise, depending on you and I guess how your horse is going. I began by getting an active forward trot over firstly the poles on the diagonal, and over the outer poles, getting Dante flexing around my leg in the trot, as we move up into canter this will become extremely helpful.
  3. Moving into our canter, I began by focusing firstly on cantering large circles over the poles at the top and bottom of the arena, focusing on having an even rhythm in the canter, making sure to also land on the correct lead as you move to your next pole.
  4. Once you are happy with this, you can begin to piece all of the 4 outer poles together. As you can see from my video on Instagram, I had a mixture of raised poles and small cavaletti’s as well as flat poles in this exercise. Variety for Dante works, he rushes more as the poles raise, so this was great to get him to approach flat poles the same as small jumps. My aim was to get a steady even forward canter the hole way around the poles.
  5. I haven’t mentioned the raised poles as of yet in this exercise, well let me add them in! They are used in this exercise to aid in changing your rein. I find this much easier to keep the exercise flowing so that you can keep the flow going instead of stopping and starting all the time. (As much as I would rather stop to catch my breath!)
  6. To finish, the entire exercise should ride as follows. Pick up your trot, changing the rein over your raised poles on the diagonal, pick up canter in the corner, ride a circle of canter over all your poles. Change the rein again over the diagonal, trotting over your poles, pick up canter and continue on with your canter over your poles on the other rein. Finish your exercise by transitioning down to trot and over your poles on the diagonal again, and viola, your done!

The Benefits of The Exercise

  • Improves your eye for a stride
  • Improves your horses canter and adjustability
  • Sharpens up your transitions
  • Improves flexability

Once you are happy with how your horse is riding this exercise, remember to always leave your horse on a good note, now keep in mind that your horse needs to do what you ask it to do so don’t worry if it takes a few turns to get this exercise right. I normally leave it up for 2/3 days to get it perfected.

I found this exercise super productive & really made me focus during my riding session. Plans really do work once you put them in place, It’s great to have a schedule to focus on and to keep you motivated, especially in this day and age!

Be sure to give it a go for yourself & do tag me in any videos you take of you doing this exercise! Next week I have a lovely jumping exercise that is sure to keep you thinking on your toes!


Small Fixes with Big Results – 8 Tips To Improve My Jumping

This post has been brewing for some time now! Over the last few months I wanted to pull together a post about where I currently stand with Dante’s jumping. The most annoying part about this post comes down to the fact that the things I have learned on my jumping journey come down to me the rider & my bad habits…

On a positive note, I have began to see a huge difference. From the way Dante collects himself, approaches fences & even lands afterwards, to how I as a rider ride him & position myself over fences I think we have really started to show progress.

Keep reading to find out what I have been doing to get to where I am know..


Without basic flatwork you have no foundations to work from. Jumping is not just about jumping a fence. Balance, rhythm, straightness, it all springs from your horses ability in his flatwork. I spend a lot of time at home working on transitions in walk, trot& canter. This not only gets Dante listening to me, but also help to engage his hind end.

The ability to lengthen & shorten your horses canter stride as well as pushing them forwards & holding them back is very important. This can all be practiced during your flatwork sessions, using the long side of your arena to lengthen & the short side to shorten up your horse. I am focusing on doing this using my body movements in the saddle.


When practicing for a jumping session, it does not necessarily mean you must jump. Sometimes doing pole-work, or jumping smaller fences can be more beneficial.

I find scattering poles around the arena, letting Dante approach them randomly helps him learn and appreciate me more as a directional giver. Basically he needs to wait & rely on me for where he is going rather that rushing off or tanking off across the arena doing his own thing.

Not only that but it will improve your eye for a stride & help establish your canter as you move over the poles. You will start to see yourself holding & pushing for the longer or shorter stride without even realising!

Jumping Position Over A Fence

This is something that needed some minor adjustments. From my 3 years of Dante, I have had a number of different instructors with nearly all of them having a different opinion on how I should ride his jump. To be fair they have all been extremely helpful, from everything I have learned there is nearly a bit of everyone’s advice in my jumping position, if that makes sense!

Firstly lets mention that no drastic hand throwing is needed. Something that needs practice to get rid of, I think we all fall victim to this at some stage of our riding. A common issue amongst a lot of equestrians, the “Throwing your hands half way up your neck” was certainly not one that worked for me. When it comes to jumping your horse you don’t necessarily need to throw your body or entire self at your horse whilst going over a fence. Your jumping position should be a natural movement, moving with the horses body giving them enough freedom to clear the fence comfortably.

Keep My Toes Pointed In

A terrible terrible trait of mine. Another habit to add to the list. I have a tendency to ride from the heel, in turn I point my toes out. Not only does it look horrific but it stems to a list of other problems such as constant leg on from my heel, which could be a reason behind Dante being dead to my leg at times. Riding with such pressure in my heels has effected my overall position, It has resulted in me gripping with my knees rather than with my lower leg & calf.

Fixing the problem is currently ongoing! Constant shouting to tell me turn my toes in really works when it comes to fixing this one. That and no stirrup work. Something I am neglecting… When I do start thought, this will help strengthen my calf & lower leg muscles & help with my overall position in the saddle.

“Your heals and lower leg are your seat belt. If they aren’t on there is not much keeping you in the saddle”- this quote I read recently really did make me feel better about my heel issue though, I cant be that bad!

Quiet Hands

Once you achieve the “Quiet hands” phase you will begin to see a lot of improvements in your riding. Don’t get me wrong, it is probably one of the most aggravating, tedious things to try & perfect, but time & patience is key. And trust between you & your horse!

Focus on riding with your hands out in front, in line with your hips. I tend to ride with quite open reins, the width of my hips also. I find this opens Dante in his movement. You are focusing on getting your horse to ride into your hands from your seat & your leg. Technically your hands are just there to establish a light contact to the horses mouth. Pulling the mouth off your horse is what you are aiming NOT to do.

You need to work your horse up into your hands, basically your legs do all the work here & after your first few days of focusing on this your legs will be dead!! But trust me.. it is worth it when you see the results you get.

Body Position

My Body has a mind of its own… if that makes any sense! Landing after a fence for a while became extremely troublesome, I put this fear of turning right into my head, and it did not look pretty.

Body position plays a massive role in how Dante lands correctly, I have the worst habit of leaning over his shoulder & looking down at the floor. I do this for a good 3-4 strides after a fence in the direction that he lands. Looking back on videos it is so horrific to watch. No wonder we were having such difficulties!!

My focus is to keep my body centered in the saddle!! Sitting up tall & keeping those shoulders back.

The Canter – Rhythm & Balance

You have nothing without a forward going canter . Dante’s canter work is coming along well but it still need loads of improvements. My main focus is getting his engine turned on, once I have that moving & activated,maintaining a forward canter is key, he is a divil for breaking into trot from his canter.

Once the ignition is turned on it makes jumping & maintaining a steady forward going pace much easier. Loads of focus on getting Dante moving from the leg is key. Maintaining an even rhythm whilst keeping Dante balanced in his canter is another thing that is improving, but still needs work. Lengthening & shortening his stride is so important, all whilst keeping a maintained rhythm & balanced canter, my work is really cut out for me over the next few weeks as I focus more on these points.

I try to get these reactions from using my seat & legs! Interfering to much with his mouth only results in him getting pissed off at me. I tend to hold on to his mouth as he moves forward in the canter, the fear of him bolting off always comes back to me! This is a fear I need to let go off, he isn’t that crazy 4 year old anymore.

Don’t Look At Your Fence

Look up, look up, look up!! Why do we just not listen to this? How many of us out there put the absolute fear into ourselves looking at fences we are about the jump, looking at the ground pole, or the scary filler as we approach instead of looking up and giving your horse direction as to where they are to go to next, well I am Guilty!!

Look up and & over your fence, basically looking to where you want your horse to go. I didn’t realise how much I looked at the jump until I started to focus and pay attention to certain aspects of my riding. Once you start looking up & not at the fence, the difference you will see, not only in your riding but in your approach to fences!

No wonder we knock so many !!

I have been focusing a lot on improving my position & my over all approach to jumping with Dante. The above of some of the main point I have been focusing on. And they have shown an overall massive improvement in our work together.

I will also like to mention that everyone should also invest in a neck strap for their horse! Everyone needs a Jesus Strap!! Expecting the unexpected with horses is something you should always anticipate, I still get reared & spun around at times.. you can never be too careful, & well sometimes when your grabbing the mane it tends to get pulled out….

I hope you enjoyed this post, let me know in the comments below if any of my tips will help you in your riding & be sure to keep an eye out for my next post, I will be running through my 5 top tips for riding the best Showjumping Round!

Until Next Time,


May Monthly Exercise – The Zig – Zag

This month, Dante & I have decided to go back to a bit more flat work to focus on Flexibility & Rhythm. Hoping that in the long run this will tremendously help us out with our jumping. 

The Set Up

Place 4-6 poles in a “zig-zag” shape down the center of your arena, or if you wish out in ZIG ZAG NBW-page-001the field.  Check the diagram to the right. (Minimum 4 poles required)

What Horse is this Exercise Useful For?

This exercise is good for a horse who anticipates there work. The different & tight turns will keep your horse thinking & stop them from guessing where they are going next, therefore they have to stop and listen to you & your aids.

How To Ride The Exercise

This exercise is quite versatile, in a sense that you can do your trot and canter work, as well as doing everything in a walk also if you wish. 

Trying to maintain a consistant rhythm through out this exercise is key. This will all help you when you translate it up into jumping, riding tight canter circles and approaching the poles correctly & smoothly are all the basis of your jumping. 

zig 2-page-001See the diagram to the left to see how to ride the exercise in trot, focusing on those tight turns and getting your horse bending around your leg. I also use this exercises as a warm up in walk getting Dante moving correctly and working forward from my leg. Below to the right, In canter I rode this exercise, with difficulty at first but as you ride it more frequent your horse has to wait for your aids through out.

As your horse progresses, working on your canter leads throughout this exercise is great, it not only lets you use the poles as a guide, but it doesn’t give your horse much space to rush off in between poles either. zig 1-page-001

My biggest problem lately is keeping my body still, at the end of the day they are poles on the ground, I certainly don’t need to be doing any magical jumping positions over them!

Below I have added in 3 additional patterns that you can ride using the zig-zag exercise. If you are riding circles start off by riding large circles, as your horse becomes more familiar with the routine then begin to challenge him by making them smaller. 


What these exercises helps your horse with

  • Stops them from Rushing
  • Helps to maintain a good rhythm  
  • Helps with flexibility & tight turns

I hope the above exercises helps at least one of you, our readers! If you want us to try out anything for next months exercise make sure to drop us a mail, we will happily be your guinea pigs! 

But for now, enjoy that good weather & get your “zig-zag’s” out!


Keeping them Busy & Getting the Stride Right ~ Lessons with Coco

(I didn’t get any pictures or videos from this lesson so enjoy some old images I have of Coco which help to demonstrate what I’m talking about 🙂 )

Where we left off

In our last lesson, I was left with 3 things to work on with Coco; her head tossing, getting her to stretch down in walk and get rid of the bunny-hopping in her canter. We had made some headway in 2 out of 3 issues!

  • Her head tossing had completely stopped in walk and trot but was still an issue in canter
  • She rarely bunny-hopped anymore in the canter
  • We still have some work to do in getting her to stretch her neck down

So..on a rainy Friday evening, I kicked off my second private lesson with Sue Byrne. Being a proud mammy, I was looking forward to showing our progress since the last lesson.

We started off with getting the fizz out of Coco (as per usual) so I went for a few laps of the arena. Once that was done we started on some flatwork exercises…

Trotting Circles

I put Coco onto a circle at the C end of the arena. In trot, we worked on gradually bringing her in on a tighter circle and then gradually pushing her back out to a larger circle. This helps improve her balance and also gets her listening to my leg aids.

Trot on Circle

Standard Flatwork Exercises

We then moved on to doing a variation of different schooling exercises; large 20 metre circles, figures of 8, transitions and walking on a long rein. I found the long rein particularly useful as the aim was to encourage Coco to really stretch herself out over her back.

A Basic Dressage Test

Eventually we put it all together to make a basic dressage test. Sue called the movements out to me as I rode and we found that Coco really enjoyed herself! The variation of exercises kept her sharp and it meant that she couldn’t anticipate what I was going to ask her so she had to listen to me. We were then tasked with finding a dressage test which we would have to practice and then show to Sue in our next lesson.

Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 22.01.00
Part of the dressage test I’ve chosen to learn for our next lesson


Next we moved onto some trot poles which were set up in the middle of the arena. We trotted over them on each rein, changing rein each time she did these much better than last time! Sue then removed the middle pole to make it a canter exercise. When we started this, Coco’s head tossing came back into play as it always did with canter work. The exercise was then elevated to a jumping exercise…

Check out our blogpost about this exercise


Sue set up a jump using the current set up a small upright and placing poles either side of the jump. Coco always gets a bit fired up when it comes to jumping and her head tossing gets A LOT worse although we discovered that she was tossing her head when she was unbalanced so Sue advised I should pick her up and move her on which did help. Once we fixed this however, our next issue was me..I just couldn’t place her to the jump. 

FullSizeRender 4

Getting the Stride Right

As I’ve mentioned before, this is something I have always struggled with. I have days where I can get it right nearly every time and days where I just can’t pick it. It’s incredibly frustrating and even more so when it’s a youngster I’m riding. They rely on us so much to get it right so I end up feeling really guilty when I mess it up. 

Anyway, to help with my problem Sue suggested the age-old solution of counting the strides out loud. Of course this is something I have done so much in the past but for some reason, when I count 1, 2, it completely throws me and I end up missing the stride completely. So instead of counting 1, 2, we counted 1, 2, 3, 4 (I’m not entirely sure what the difference is in my own head), and it worked a treat. As soon as I started doing this Sue could see the difference. As I counted, I was subconsciously able to keep Coco in a rhythm by slowing her down when I felt her get fast which meant I could read my stride and place her perfectly to the jump. And with that, we finished the lesson for the day. 

What to work on for next time:

  • No more laps of canter before a session
  • Learn & practice a preliminary dressage test nail that walk on the long-rein
  • Head Tossing in the canter

Despite the weather I had a good, productive lesson with plenty to keep both of us busy until our next lesson with Sue.

Make sure to keep an eye out for my blogpost on Coco’s 3rd Private Lesson…it’ll be an interesting one!!