Youngster Exercise Series – The Circle Challenge

Here’s another exercise that is a bit more challenging but excellent for a young horse to take on. I did this one with Cosmo before we went into complete lockdown in March. It was tough but very rewarding when we got it right.


WHAT IS THIS EXERCISE GOOD FOR?

  • Building topline
  • Encouraging self-carriage
  • Making your horse more sure-footed
  • Improving balance

HOW TO SET IT UP

For this exercise you’re going to want a large amount of space. I set mine up in the middle of the arena but it could be set-up at either end of the arena too.

For the Trot Poles:

  • Two sets of 3 x raised trot poles – 5 footsteps between each pole
  • Each set should be placed at opposite sides of a 10m circle

For the Canter Poles:

  • 4 x poles
  • Placed on a 20m circle at 3 – 6 – 9 – 12 as if on a clock face

You should place your canter poles around the outside of your trot poles.

HOW TO RIDE IT

Riding the Trot Poles:

To ride the trot poles you want to make sure you have a nice forward trot with a good even contact on the reins to help balance your horse.

  • Start by riding a circle around the outside of the trot poles, encouraging your horse to bend its body around your leg
  • Once you establish a nice even rhythm, ride your horse into the first set of trot poles, making sure to keep the bend over the poles. You may find that your horse will struggle the first few times over the poles but if you can maintain consistency in your rhythm and contact, they’ll get there themselves.
  • After doing the first set of poles on each rein a few times, its time to complete the circle and include your second set of poles. You may find the circle a bit tight initially but again, once you maintain a consistent rhythm, your horse should flow through both sets of poles.
  • This is quite a tough enough exercise for a young horse who is still developing their topline so be sure to give your horse plenty of breaks when doing this exercise.

For the Canter Poles:

The canter element of this exercise is much more simple but equally as challenging especially if you have a horse who struggles to hold themselves together in the canter.

  • Similar to the trot poles, start by riding a larger circle around the outside of the canter poles to help establish a rhythm. You want to settle your horse into a nice forward canter with a slight bend through their body.
  • Once you’re ready, start over your first pole focusing on maintaining your rhythm and keeping your horse up in your hands to encourage them off the forehand as you ride the full circle of poles.
  • Do this on both reins while making sure to give your horse plenty of breaks.

Check out a quick video of Cosmo giving this Circle Challenge a go!


I definitely found the trot pole element of this layout way more difficult than the canter poles but I felt both myself and Cosmo settled into it in the end and we got some really lovely results. Our biggest problem with canter work is that Cosmo tends to lean on the forehand quite a bit so I sometimes have a hard time keeping him up and light in my hands. I definitely felt an improvement by the time we finished up with this exercise though.

Thanks for reading,

ORLA

Youngster Exercise Series – Straighten Out

As you may be realising, Cosmo has a bit of a straightness issue so I came up with this series of poles to help work on this problem. It’s relatively simple but enough for a young brain to get to grips with.


WHAT IS THIS EXERCISE GOOD FOR?

  • Straightness
  • Rhythm
  • Seeing a stride

HOW TO SET IT UP?

For this exercise you’ll need pretty much your full arena and the following:

For the Trot Poles:

  • Two sets of 3 x trot poles – 4 and a half footsteps between each pole
  • A pair of straightening poles set up either side of both sets of trot poles

For the Canter Poles:

  • One set of canter poles – 6 strides, 4 large steps per stride
  • A pair of straightening poles at the start and end of the line
  • Two wings/blocks at the half way point down your line

Your trot poles should be set up on the long-sides, while your canter poles should be set up down the centreline.

HOW TO RIDE IT

The straightening poles within these layouts will ensure your horse goes over the poles as straight as possible however there are other things you can do to help get your horse there:

  • If your horse tends to drift to one particular side more than the other, then consider cutting your corner on your approach or turning a little later. This will help ensure you’re straight by the time you hit your poles.
  • Keep your hands wide to provide a type of tunnel contact between your hands and the horse’s mouth.
  • Focus on keeping even pressure on your horse’s sides with your legs.

Check out some GoPro footage of me and Cosmo giving the canter poles a go…


Cosmo’s weakest gait is canter so we can sometimes struggle to even get through a set of canter poles without breaking to trot but he did quite well with this one all things considered. I’ve definitely seen a big improvement in Cosmo’s straightness since starting these exercises so do give them a go if you’re having the same problems as me.

Thanks for reading,

ORLA

Youngster Exercise Series ~ Circle of Support

Well, it has been some time since I’ve written a post and for that I apologise but I’m getting back into the swing of things and to kick me back into gear, I’ve got a brand new exercise series specifically aimed at young horses.

To start the series, I’ve got a nice simple pole exercise that incorporates some concepts that are vital to your horse’s development.


WHAT IS THIS EXERCISE GOOD FOR?

  • Improving balance
  • Encouraging roundness and self-carriage
  • Strengthening the hind end
  • Improving rhythm

HOW TO SET IT UP

Ideally you want to have someone on the ground to help adjust poles but if that’s not possible then you can set this exercise up in two different corners of the arena.

Trot Pole Setup:

  • Set out 3 trot poles in a fan with 4 small footsteps between the middle of each pole
  • Place one pole vertically on the outside of the fan as a guide pole
  • Place another guide pole vertically on the inside of the fan

Canter Pole Setup:

  • Lay a single pole out on a bend
  • Place a guide pole vertically on either side of the canter pole, again one on the outside and one on the inside

HOW TO RIDE IT

Hold the outside rein while opening the inside hand to support through the circle

TROT POLES

  • First, make sure you have an active and engaged trot with your horse moving forward and off the leg.
  • Bring them onto a circle, but going around the exercise to start. This is to get you and your horse in the circle ‘mind-frame’ and allows you the time to ask for an inside bend.
  • Once happy with how your horse is moving, bring them into your set of trot poles, starting over the centre of the poles first.
  • The placing of the guide poles, will help keep your horse on track before and after the trot poles.
  • Do this a few times before you start asking your horse to move out on the circle, aiming for the outside of the trot poles.
  • Next work your way back in until you’re riding over the inside of the trot poles.
  • Make sure to repeat the above on the other rein to give both reins a good workout

CANTER POLES

  • Depending on your horse’s weaknesses, you might find they struggle a bit more with this exercise in canter. You also might find that they have a rein that’s much weaker than the other so you’ll find this very beneficial for supporting them on that weaker side.
  • Similar to the trot poles, do a circle of canter around the exercise first so you can establish your rhythm on a circle.
  • Once ready, bring your horse over the canter pole making sure to support them with your outside rein and if needs be, opening your inside rein a bit wider to encourage them around the circle.
  • Do this a few times on each rein until you feel your horse is supporting themselves around the circle
  • Step it up by turning the canter pole into a raised cavaletti, ensuring your horse uses themselves effectively over the pole

Tips for this Exercise:

  • Keep a steady, even pace through the exercise, using half halts on the outside rein to manage your horse’s speed
  • If your horse is prone to drifting out through the shoulder, make sure to lift and keep a steady contact on the outside rein while supporting their body through the turns with a strong outside leg behind the girth
  • Use your guide poles! They’re there to help and support so use them to help guide your horse through the exercise.

Check out how I got on with Cosmo when we tackled this exercise…


As these exercises are aimed at young horses, they tend to be quite simple but also something that should challenge your youngster. Myself and Cosmo struggled with this canter part of the exercise way more than I thought we should but we got there in the end eventually.

Give it a go with your youngster and let me know how you get on!

Thanks for reading,

ORLA

Two Simple Pole Exercises for Young Horses

Since buying Cosmo I’ve had to go back and re-hash some old exercises I used to do with Coco but with all the extra experience and knowledge I’ve gained over the years, I’ve also picked up a few new exercises that I think will be very beneficial to Cosmo’s development.

Polework is so important when schooling your youngster but its also important not to overdo it with anything too difficult or overly complicated. So below are two simple polework exercises I’ve done with Cosmo since I bought him.


Straight Line of 5

Probably one of the most basic pole exercises you can do but also one of the most beneficial. A simple straight line of 5 poles is great for working to build your horse’s topline. The extended line of poles encourages them to stretch out and work across their backs and you can create a deeper stretch by lengthening out the poles, even by just half a foot.

To take this exercise to the next level, gradually start raising the poles into low cavalettis, starting with the middle pole. Over time you should be able to get to a point where the middle three poles are raised and then you can begin to raise the height as your horse’s topline develops.

Serpentine of Poles

I found this particular layout very good for a variety of reasons. It’s a simple set up – one set of three trot poles on the diagonal and another set of five trot poles, connected to the first set, on the opposite diagonal.

When setting this up, make sure to place two of the trot poles within the set of five so that they create a funnel into the centre of the set of three. This helps maintain straightness when attempting the set of three. I also like to place the poles slightly further apart on the set of five to encourage Cosmo to stretch down and engage himself over the poles.

The full exercise should be done in a figure of 8 so the key thing to remember is rhythm. You want to maintain a consistent rhythm as you move from one set of poles to the next. It’s also important to remember not to interfere with your horse. When doing these kind of exercises with your youngster you want them to figure poles out for themselves so if they don’t meet the exercise perfectly to begin with, don’t worry, with repetition and a consistent rhythm, they will get the hang of it.

The last thing to focus on is straightness. Young horse’s tend to be quite wiggly with their arses swinging out behind them doing it’s own thing so make sure to do your best to support your horse’s body using your legs to keep him as straight as possible. You won’t always get it bang on but over time they’ll eventually learn.

Check out Cosmo taking on these exercises in our demonstration video below:


These are two very simple exercises that are perfect for introducing any horse to polework. They’re not overly complicated but they’re enough to get them thinking about where they’re putting their feet, and to really get them working across their back. Hopefully you’ll find these as useful as I did!

Thanks for reading,

Orla

January Ultimate Exercise – Halt, Loop & Go!

Welcome to week 3! I can’t get over the amazing response we have had to these exercises, maybe it is something you guys want to read more off in the future…? Who knows what we have in store!

This week we are focusing more in on our transition work, incorporating a serpentine in canter. This will bring us forward from last weeks exercise still working on our flying changes from our “Figure of Death”, lets see how much your horse has learned!

Keep reading to find out how we got on, do be warned though, prepare yourself for sore legs the next day!!

What You Will Need?

For this weeks exercise, you will yet again need your arena, or a field to layout this exercise.

6 poles are needed, position them in the arena as per the diagram below across the diagonal. Between each pole, walk out the distance of 10 footsteps for a horse and 9 footsteps for a pony.

Be sure to clear your arena of any extra wings/poles as you will need the space.

What This Exercise Is Good For?

  • Perfecting your Flying changes in sequence
  • Developing the riders coordination & seat
  • Approaching poles correctly
  • Suppling your horse around your leg
  • Helping your horses Balance & Rhythm

How To Ride This Exercise?

  • As always, begin this exercise by warming your horse up accordingly.
    Focusing again on firstly your walk on each rein getting them loose & listening, followed by trot work incorporating some 20 metre circles adding in some figures of 8’s , and finally begin with your canter.
  • Once you are satisfied with your horses warm up, that they are listening to your leg aids accordingly, we can start to introduce the first section of this exercise. It is all about transition work, with the poles being there as a guideline to assist you & your horse with straightness. See Diagram below.
  • You can see in the image that between each pole in the diagram there is an “X” marked in the middle. This is your take off point & also your stopping point. Anytime you react an X, you must transition up or down from the original gait you came in. Try this a couple of times in each direction, mixing up your transitions so your horse doesn’t anticipate the exercise. (trot to halt, halt to trot, walk to canter, canter to halt etc.)
  • The most important thing to remember, don’t let your horse run through a transition. Going forward you need to push them forwards, if you need to assist your leg with a flick of a schooling whip do. On downward transitions you will need to sit and hold. Using your seat & leg will be the most beneficial way to accomplish this, or even your voice with a calming “Woahhh”.
Starting off your exercise with a larger, more exaggerated loop of the arena across the diagonal.
  • Once you feel like you have hit the nail on the head with the above, then you can begin to progress to the second part of the exercise, the serpentine. This is where your canter work comes into play.
  • Begin by picking up your canter, and approaching the outer poles in a large 20metre circle. Do this off both reins until you are happy with how your horse is approaching the ground poles. You want them staying in the same rhythm & approaching the poles calmly. See Diagram Below.
  • See the Diagram below for the final stage of the exercise. When riding the serpentine in Canter, try land for two strides after each pole before your approach to the next, use your seat & wrap your horse around your inside leg, using your outside leg to keep him moving forward. You are trying to focus here on using your legs more instead of using your hands when turning your horse. This takes some time getting used to. Trust me, I had to hold a branch to stop me from pulling at Dante’s mouth at times!
  • Once you complete your serpentine, of course the exercise isn’t quite finished yet! You must loop back in what we practiced at the beginning! Marked with a red “X” on the image below, you must transition down to a halt from your canter, this was our rule to finishing out the exercise!
  • To finish off, again if your horse completes this good on the first attempt with the correct leads over the poles, end your session. Don’t over work your horse. You will only end up spending more time trying to fix it or correct it leaving you aggravated & well pissed off, we have all been there!

And there you have it! Our Halt, Loop & GO exercise. I thought it would be best not to use the word death in the title, a lot of you were quite concerned!

Doing this on both horses, again they both gave me different reactions one was good, one was challenging! To my surprise Dante seemed to of brought froward what he learned from our “Figure of Death” and really used his little brain in remembering his flying changes. Coco on the other hand, well she was being coco, attacking the poles and basically loving life with a few attempts to get me off!! Check out our Instagram to see some videos of the horses doing this exercise!

The Branch!! A lot of you have asked why I was holding a branch whilst riding part of this exercise. Well it is quite simple, it was an aid to assist myself with keeping my hands steady & to stop my uneven contact. Give it a go yourself, try riding with a short whip or in my case a branch. Hold your reins like normal, and place the whip across your horses whither’s holding it under your thumbs, It will basically help position your hands in the perfect place & help you forget about thinking what you are doing with them!

How will you get on with this weeks exercise? Let us know in the comments below, & of course tag us in your video’s if you give this video a go!

Thanks For Reading,

Darielle

January Ultimate Exercise – “Figure Of Death”

Wow!! What a reaction to our first “Ultimate series” exercise! It looks like we weren’t the only ones looking to up our game & get right back into work for the New Year!

This weeks exercise, now that you have hopefully mastered the trot we decided to focus in on our canter work. Luckily for me I have both Coco & Dante to trial this exercise on and what a difference both of them gave me!

Keeping a persistant rhythm & keeping the same pace towards the end of this exercise was key, keep reading to see how we approached this weeks Figure of Death!

What You Will Need?

A lot of stamina & energy for starters & patience!!

You will physically need yet again an arena, or an open field with 6 ground poles. The distance between the square of poles should be 9(pony)10(horse) footsteps. But if you want to cheat making sure they are placed exactly parallel to each other as per the diagram below & you should be fine (unless you are riding a very small pony!)

Make sure you have cleared your arena of any other wings/poles as you will need all the space you can get!

What This Exercise Is Good For?

  • Keeping a consistant rhythm
  • Keeping a consistant, even contact with your horse
  • Flying changes
  • Control of pace
  • Improves your eye for a stride

How To Ride This Exercise?

  • Start your warm up as normal, keeping in mind not to over do it, this exercise is a work out in itself! Try 5 minutes walk on each rein getting them loose, followed by trot work incorporating some 20 metre circles, and finally begin with your canter. We focused a lot this week on pushing for a long stride on the long side of the arena & holding for a short canter on the shorter side of the arena. This will get your horse listening, helping you when you need to push or hold on your approach to poles when needed.
  • Begin this exercises by using the two single ground poles, to focus on your 20metre canter circles , once you are happy with how your horse is approaching them & have done them on both reins you may begin to start the full exercise. See The Diagram Below
Start the exercise by doing sections first, once happy with your approach then piece it all together.
  • Picking up canter, make sure you have a forward rhythm keeping in mind your focus is to keep the exact same rhythm throughout the entire exercise (this is why riding it in sections to begin with works wonders!)
  • Riding your 20metre circle first over the single ground pole, continue to ride out into your corner looking for your approach into your square. The use of your corners & your arena is vital!
  • Continue by approaching your square, this is where it may begin to get tricky. Some horses will ride it as if they are approaching a fence so their canter may go up a pace or two. Here you are trying to sit, hold and maintain a steady pace.
  • Once you approach the square, your aim is to get your flying change over the second ground pole of the square, not the first! (This mistake was made a few times!!) Once you land over the second pole hopefully on the correct lead continue to canter out into your corner. Don’t let your horse cut the corner or turn, get rid of those bad habits!!
  • Once you have mastered this then can you proceed to piece the entire exercise together. Don’t worry if it takes a few tries, remember you are asking a good bit from your horse. See the diagram below
  • Do keep in mind, if you complete the entire exercise once & your horse has done it well, stop & reward him! Even end your session there on that good note, last thing you want is to over do it and end up with a fed up horse! Take the wins when you can.
It’s not as difficult as you think! It is quite rewarding when you complete the entire figure of 8 loop!

How To ask for a Flying Change (left to right)

Sitting tall & quiet in the saddle, wrap your right leg around the girth this will keep your horse moving forward when being asked to change, moving your left leg behind the girth you are giving the signal for the opposite hind leg to strike into the lead. Keeping a tight contact on the left rein, softening the right to give your horse freedom to change forward. 


There you have it the “Figure of Death” I would be lying if I said this exercise was easy, it certainly was not! I was so close to giving up on Dante, his brain just couldn’t seem to process it first time round, but persistance was key, never give up!

Coco was the dream riding this, she is quite compact & holds herself together much better than Dante does, she was quite easy to control around all the corners, and way easier to hold for the shorter & longer canter strides I needed.

If you are finding this exercise difficult, stick to Riding the exercise section by section each day, your horse will begin to understand & you will get the results you want over time, I promise!

As always, pop over to our Instagram to have a look at our attempts at this exercise!

Until next time,

Darielle