Mindful Flatting: Including Ground Poles

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BY ABBY FUNK

If there is one thing that we can all agree on, horses probably need to jump less than they do. Between the demands of learning, practice, preparation, and actual horse showing, it can sometimes be a difficult balance to keep the number of jumps to a manageable level. In this article, we discuss how poles or small boxes can be used in the place of jumps to help improve your horse’s straightness, balance, form fitness, jump intelligence, and other improvements without the impact of repetition taking off and landing from larger fences. 

These are also great exercises when riding by yourself or flatting outside a lesson or over poles on a horse rehabilitating that needs a stimulating exercise without the exertion of jumping. This polework can be set in an indoor or outdoor ring or simply on the grass outside of the ring. Simply adjust the number of poles or boxes based on your space constraints, materials you have access to, and build up your horse slowly and confidently, especially if they have been off jumping for a while for any number of reasons. 

It is recommended that riders walk their horses through the poles or over the flower boxes first to familiarize them with the exercise and the goal of where their feet are going. From there, working through them at the trot will build your horse’s core muscles and toplines, and can help hind end fitness and strengthen the muscles around the stifle at the walk and trot. For rehab horses that are bored by their walk and trot sets, this can help them keep engaged and look forward to their work program. 

The Exercise: 

Use as few as three poles in a row, preferably 4-5 poles, and max of 8-9 poles set 7-8 feet apart with poles or small boxes. 

After completing the exercise at the walk and trot, the last step is to develop a collected canter, making sure that your canter is on the edge and then balance up to the poles. 

Why It’s Hard: 

The horse has to maintain the same collected pace and not build within the exercise. As the horse builds in forward motion over every jump, take-off, and landing, they must further collect themselves over later boxes. Your horse has to think about the jumps and how to set themselves up – there is only so much you can do to help them in this exercise and they learn to seek the jumps and become more self-sufficient in the jumping process, both seeking out distances and engaging their body to be prepared to jump. This exercise also takes a lot of fitness and increases fitness, both mentally and physically, for your horse and they may struggle as those physical and emotional muscles for competition are being build up. 

The Advanced Exercise: 

Take a single box from a jump and put 4-8 of them in a row 9′ apart.

Same exercise with slightly larger boxes – set this exercise 9 feet apart from each other. Use a single box (½  of a horse show jump with no standards) for maximum test of steering, straightness, listening, forward motion, and bravery at the collected canter.

Why It’s Hard: 

Maintaining the same collected pace increases in difficulty as the number of boxes increases and they are required to figure out their own further collection. With the single width box, any shifting or lack of straightness as an effort by the horse to “create space” will be very obvious and result in the exercise not being able to be completed. 

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