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