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

A Winter Exercise Staple, Trot N Rock

Finally getting back into the swing of normal again, making a riding schedule and trying to stick to it has now become quite the challenge, I forgot how much I hated the winter. Trying to get on top of our exercises has also been something I have really missed.

This exercise, Trot N Rock was one I done quite a bit through summer months, or during the first lockdown shall I say, it was a great transition exercise as well as one that kept Dante’s mind very busy and occupied.

I always find it hard to plan and think of things to be doing exercise wise in the arena, without a plan in my head of what I need to be doing each day, I often find myself drifting in and out of plans. Creating these short effective exercises certainly helps, it also keeps my riding quick but effective, and well what more could you want now that the winter months are creeping in amongst us.

Keep scrolling for my Trot N Rock exercise, it is definitely one to start with so many benefits not too mention how quick and easy it is to set up.


The Setup

Well, for this exercise all you need for your set up is 3 trot poles, of course an arena or a quiet field would also come in handy. Quite simple. The distance between your poles can depend, for a pony 4 heel to toe footsteps, for a horse I tend to do 4 and a half heel to toe footsteps. Check out the vid below!

Your arena doesn’t need to be fully clear, but I would recommend clearing at least the half of the arena you are using. See below as to where your set up should be done and what it should look like before you start.

The Benefits

  • Helps improve Balance, Suppleness, Rhythm
  • Helps develop hind end muscles and horses core
  • Helps to develop horses eye, and improves his co-ordination
  • Helps keep your horses brain busy, less anticipation of the work he thinks he’s doing
  • Teaches your horse collection

How To Ride This Exercise

Step 1 – Do I need to tell you what step one is, or have you been living under a rock? The warm up is as critical as the exercise itself! No warm up, especially in the winter time will leave you with an accident prone and stiff horse… so be sure to get your 15 minute walk trot and canter in before you “jump” into any of our exercises.

Step 2 – This exercise is so much easier to explain, I feel like I have already made a balls of the images! Start first by picking up your trot, you are looking for a nice rhythm not too fast, once you find it start by going over your trot poles. Do this a few times and be sure to change your rein often. Don’t leave it too easy so that your horse can anticipate the left and right turns. Focus on your turns before and after your poles also, aim for the centre and focus on staying straight through out the 3 poles

Step 3 – Once you are riding smoothly over the poles in trot, adding an element of canter to this exercise is what we shall be doing next, and no you don’t need to adjust them to canter poles. Your poles are placed down the centre of the centre or half way up even, when you are comfortable to progress to your canter, the aim is to canter 3 loops around each trot pole that you have placed down as per the image below. I would recommend practicing this a few times before we piece everything together. Dante looked at the poles strangely when he had to go through them opposed to going over them, you will be surprised on the strange things out horses look at!

Step 4 – You are looking for an active forward canter, your can begin with large circles, starting near the centre of the arena, progressing to the small circle, or you can go the opposite. Whatever suits your horse. Balance and rhythm is something you need to keep focus on, Sitting up straight holding a contact and riding from the leg will all benefit you in keeping the above smooth. Once you have mastered this, it is time to piece all of our above steps together.

Step 5 – Lets piece everything together, starting in trot and finishing in trot. BAM, I surprised you with a twist there! Pick up your forward active trot like in step 2 above, begin by coming over your trot poles in the center of the arena a loop on each rein. As you come over your poles the second time track left, you are now picking up canter in your next nearest corner. Now you are piecing in Step 3 and adding in your canter loops. Continuing until you have your 3 loops around your poles, using the same corner you picked up canter as a marker to transition back down to trot. Keep your forward trot when transitioning down, as you need to finish off by coming over your trot poles one last time and tracking right. In your next corner transition down to walk or straight to halt. Whichever your prefer and Viola, The Trot N Rock exercise is complete!


And there we have it folks, I have always wanted to say that in a room full of people… don’t even ask why! This exercise is so simple yet it has so many benefits that I am sure we can all gain from. You might only do it once and finish there, but you hit all the nails on the head and even manage to get two rein changes in at that too. It is also an exercise that gives you a sense of accomplishment when you finish your ride. I don’t know about you but motivating myself to ride in the winter can be a tough one. The cold is not my friend especially when you have to walk up and down the yard in the dark not to mention having to keep turning on and off lights..

Anyways I want you guys to give this exercise a go, it’s one I will be bringing back into my winter routine that’s for sure. We also love seeing you guys doing our exercises, be sure to tag us in any of your videos if you add it to your winter riding schedules!

Be on the look out for more pole workouts coming your way, it’s going to be a winter pole fiasco, I can just feel it in my bones! Pole work, gives you goal work…

Speak Soon,

Darielle

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

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

March Monthly Exercise – Loop the Loop

When me and Coco were having some bucking issues a few weeks ago, I needed to find an exercise that I could use to keep Coco moving, listening and interested in the work I was asking her to do. This exercise was recommended to me by our very own Coach Sue Byrne who actually sent me the layout over a picture of chicken on a baking tray (no joke, see picture at the bottom of this post!).

What’s is this exercise good for?img_6766.jpg

  • Suppleness
  • Engaging your horse physically and mentally
  • Practicing flying changes
  • Rhythm
  • Straightness

How to Set it Up

This exercise is made up of a selection of trot poles and canter poles. You will need 8 poles all placed along the centre line of the arena. Starting at the top of the arena, place two trot poles, beside one of these poles place a single pole, beside that pole place another two trot poles, beside these poles place a single pole, finishing off with another two trot poles beside that single pole – see diagram for reference.

How to Ride it

In Trot:
  1. Starting at the top of the arena, trot across the first set of trot poles
  2. Track right and loop around to the next set of trot poles
  3. Track left and loop around to the last set of trot poles
  4. Track right and come up the centre line, staying between the poles
  5. Repeat this two or three times on each rein until you hit every set of poles in a steady rhythm
In Canter:
  1. Picking up canter at the bottom of the arena, canter across your first canter pole asking for a lead change over the pole
  2. Track left and loop around to the next canter pole, asking for a lead change over the pole
  3. Track right and come down the centre line, asking for a lead change at X and track left
  4. Repeat this two or three times on each rein, aiming for a clean lead change each time

Challenge Yourself

  • Step it up a notch by combining the trot and canter exercises. Ask for canter when you come off the centre line at the end of the trot exercise and start over your canter poles.
  • Test how well your horse is really listening to you by asking for canter after the first set of trot poles and come over the canter pole beside that set of poles, and then back to trot to take on the next set of trot poles and repeat the whole way down the set up.
  • One thing I love about this exercise is that it can be very easily turned into a jumping exercise and it becomes a whole new challenge for both horse and rider.

 

This was definitely one of the funner exercises I have done with Coco and it was perfect for settling her down and getting her listening to what I was asking her to do. Coco is the type of mare who needs to be kept busy, when she gets bored she likes to make her own fun and this is when the messing starts.

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Give this a go and as always let us know how you get on.

Thanks for reading,

Orla

P.S. Check out Sue’s amazing drawing of this exercise on her tray of chicken! Yellow line is Trot, Blue line is Canter.