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Dark nights are in full force and I can’t be the only one whose motivation to ride vanishes when it’s dark and miserable outside…
I have a pint-sized Belgian Warmblood mare that I’m currently bringing into full work and building up. She is chestnut of all colours and likes to make this well known on occasion.
A good way to keep things interesting during the winter months, when the shows slow down and it’s too wet to do much off-road hacking, is through pole work.
Pole work is so useful for so many things! A horse exercising over raised poles has a similar effect to us going up stairs; it engages core muscles and helps to improve balance and engagement of their hindquarters. It is so good for them! As well as physically stimulating them, pole work also mentally stimulates horses and helps keep schooling interesting, otherwise they can get bored and sour, just like us!
You also don’t need dozens of poles for it to be useful, so it’s open to anyone. Before I could afford to buy my own wooden poles, I made my own using white drainpipe from B&Q with coloured electrical tape to make the stripes!
Becoming DIY savvy can save you ££ in the long run, especially over these dreary winters where any spare cash is being spent on yet another bale of haylage.
Following her last physio appointment, our physio recommended using some kind of EquiBand system, just to encourage Amber to bring her hind end under and through properly, as she has a tendency to pull herself along at the front rather than pushing from behind. So rather than buy one straight away, I decided to pull out my much-abused tail bandage and roller. My very first pony wore this same tail bandage – it’s bizarre the things you can get sentimental over!
By simply fastening the ties to the low (side level) loop on her roller and threading it behind her legs... boom, a homemade band system! It’s important not to overtighten the tail bandage; it shouldn’t slip down or be loose at all but equally it shouldn’t be stretched out completely – bear in mind the legs need to be able to move without being pulled.
In terms of pole work, for an absolute diva of a chestnut mare who rushes to jumps, a good way to get on top of the rushing is to remove the fences. This might sound daft but putting all the poles on the ground and schooling over them instead, in a controlled canter, teaches the horse to relax and listen to the rider around courses. Adding the fences in one by one, without changing how you ride, is a good way to work back up to jumping a full course.
Another simple but effective use for poles is to lie two flat on the ground at a good few strides apart. You can choose the distance between them, but ideally you want at least 3 strides between poles. First, in canter, ride the poles and count how many strides you do between them. Then, try to lengthen your canter to see if you can knock a stride off the previous number (without turning it into a gallop!).
Once you’ve done this, collect your canter as much as possible and see if you can add in an extra stride on top of the original number. Changing the canter like this is known as doing transitions within a pace and it’s a really useful to have under your belt, as well as being especially useful for show-jumping.
You can also lay the poles in some really different patterns. By placing four poles end to end to create a square in the middle of your school, you automatically have canter and trotting poles laid out. You can add two poles on the end of your square to create a triangle to trot over too.
Something I’ve been seeing a lot across social media recently is a Christmas tree themed pole layout. I’ll include a photograph of my attempt below – I don’t think her ladyship Queen Amber was best impressed by my Christmas spirit!
What is your favourite DIY horsey hack? Have you got a typical chestnut mare that needs to constantly be kept interested in order to get the best out of them? Let us know!