Why Trotting Poles?

  • Correct frame in trotting poles and engaging hindquarters

    Correct frame in trotting poles and engaging hindquarters

  • Trotting Pole Ring

    Trotting Pole Ring

  • Backing in a straight line through the middle

    Backing in a straight line through the middle

The reason we ride and train our horses is to bring out their best. An improved gait can enhance your riding experience, and add more value to your horse. Horses that are balanced and well developed are a pleasure to ride and to watch.

When you understand the way a horses legs and joints move during the “swing” phase and the “stance “ phase over level ground and over poles can you truly understand the benefits of these exercises.

The swing phase is when the leg is carried forward through the air and the stance phase is when the hoof is grounded and the leg is weight bearing.

Poles on the ground are used to improve the horses’ technical skills as well as rehabilitation from injury or neurological conditions.

Using this hoof-eye coordination exercises to rehabilitate horses after neurological diseases, include walking and trotting over, around, or between poles or other obstacles. The challenge for the horse is to see the objects, plan where to put his feet, then use neuromotor control to place the feet correctly. When horses trot over the poles, they clear the poles using increased flexion in all of their limb joints, rather than pushing their whole bodies higher off the ground. Since horses aren’t pushing their bodies higher in the air to clear poles, the vertical force between the hoof and the ground does not increase, which means that there is no increase in weight-bearing when horses trot over poles— this is very important when overcoming some injuries. Based on the measured angles and forces, it is unlikely that the leg’s soft tissues are stressed more when horses trot over poles versus trotting over flat ground.

Horses learn about the experience of moving their body over an obstacle like a pole. During the first few times trotting over the poles, horses tend to exaggerate their response so they lift their hooves higher than is necessary, as they practice, they learn that they don’t have to exert as much effort and that a lower hoof trajectory is adequate.

That reduced effort doesn’t mean the exercise loses its benefits over time, however: The amount of flexion the joints undergo is still a lot greater over poles as compared to flat work, so the exercise helps increase joints’ range of motion, especially in horses that are recovering from lameness.

It is essential that your horse is sound when working over trotting poles. Always make sure that your horse’s head is tipped slightly to the inside of the ring ensuring that that the spine is correctly aligned.

Trotting pole exercises are very beneficial, mentally and physically, for senior horses if they are sound.
If you are having problems getting your horse onto the bit or engaging during a ride, have him thoroughly checked out as to eliminate pain. Then consider whether he is actually physically strong enough to do what you are asking him to do. If you suspect that he is not developed, as you would like, then trotting poles could be an option for you. Trotting poles and cavalletti’s make up the basic tools in all riding disciplines.  Not only do these little obstacles bring a little variety into your horses’ schoolwork but it will also be the easiest way of introducing new techniques to your horse.

It is very important to introduce your horse to poles on the ground more gradually.  Make sure your horse is always comfortable at walking over the poles first. It is essential that you have full voice control when working your horse. He needs to listen to you. Walk, trot and to Whoa when told. You need to know what a working trot looks like. Trotting over a few poles should only be started when you are very confident that your horse understands what is expected of him. You long line your horse over the poles. It is a good idea to use trotting poles at least once a week. If you are training your horse at competition level he should be long lining over trotting poles at least once a day. Giving one day a week off.
The speed should be a controlled working trot. It is essential that there is a change of rein every 5 min. Then walk straight through the middle of your ring and ask your horse to slowly back in a straight line and then change direction.

Our average trotting pole session is 20min, however as your horse gets fitter one can increase the time up till a hour session.
Do not let the horse do more than a trot. The lunge arena must be at least 20m in diameter.

Once your horse can do the trotting poles at 15cm off the ground at a trot with no knocking you have reached optimal trotting pole work.

Trotting poles are heavy poles (we use Eskom poles) of 3 meters in length.  A rustic log that still has its bark on is ideal, as it does not tend to move around too much. Not only are these poles easily set out but they are just as easily removed. As with any horse equipment it is essential that you know how to use them as to prevent abuse – misuse and accidents from happening. We use rubber bell boots on the front feet as protection.

How far apart must the poles be?
For the average pony, 1 meter to 1.3 meters is ideal
A standard horse would be comfortable at 2 meters.
Never use fewer than four poles, as this teaches nothing but how to hop i.e. no rhythm.

The advantages of trotting poles.

For the horse

  •  It increases his stride
  • Balance
  • Teaches obedience
  • Helps develop the correct back muscles – lowers his head and neck, rounds his back and engages his hind quarters
  • Teaches the horse discipline and coordination also develops the horses natural ‘eye’

The horses’ neck works like a fifth leg or a cats tail. The horse uses his head and neck to balance himself. When long lining with loose long lines you allow the horse to work where he is most comfortable. Very often when a horse has back ache or pain in the pelvis, he will raise his head. This position is counterproductive to developing a good top line as well as balance. Once your horse has enough strength he will start using the trotting poles with his head and neck lower. When the hind quarter and back are pain free and supple, your horse can use his neck independently allowing him to get off your hands. If you work your horse over the poles with side reins or other training aids, you run the risk of letting your horse work in a “locked” frame.  Making him lean on your hands for balance. This will not develop muscles in a productive way. Working free has many more advantages.

A horse that has been working comfortably over the trotting poles will develop a strong topline and impressive hind quarter. Making him light and easy to work. Balance and elegance will be the result of these many hours of work over the poles.

For more Information please contact: Kim Dyson Ferreira – 082 888 6511


Two months of Trotting Poles

Trotting Poles Results

Swayback mare at two years old (Left) / Improvement to mares back as a four year old (Right)