Trotting Poles is a very basic exercise and underestimated exercise that is very beneficial to young and older horses alike. I felt the need to include it in our gridwork as it seems to get left in the dust even though it’s a great exercise used almost daily.
For one, it is a great tool for strengthening the horses hind end. It requires the horse to bend it’s hocks and stifles more than a usual step. For the jumping horse, it can be used to warm up the hind joints before jumping, and for dressage horses, it can supple the hind end, creating more ease for exercises from leg yield to Piaffe and Passage.
Many young horses can have issues with their stifles as they grow. They can be as mild as just a stiffness that creates a toe drag or they can even lock, prohibiting the horse from moving forward when he has been standing. Trotting over the poles is somewhat of a stretching exercise, encouraging the horse to lift his hind legs higher and bend the joint then straighten repeatedly through the poles.
The exercise also requires a bit of precision and attention which can be a great ‘half halt’ for a distracted or overly forward horse.
Grady has very straight hind legs, so this exercise is a must for him to encourage his joints to move in the proper manner to build muscle.
In this video, I use 4 cavaletti , placed 3 feet apart, starting at the lowest height. If your horse is new to this exercise I recommend using 3 poles or cavaletti. Four can be a bit overwhelming and if you only have 2, your horse may just decide it’s easier to jump them.
I start Grady at the walk, otherwise, he gets excited and tries to awkwardly jump through. I give him a very loose rein and leave him be so he can figure out where to place his feet. At the walk, your horse will need to take 2 steps in between each pole with both front and hind legs. If you want to make it even more basic, you can set them 2 feet apart and then spread them out when you trot.
When I am ready to trot, I wait until Grady begins to step over the first pole before asking for trot. This is due to his anxious demeanor that has him convinced he must jump everything underneath him. You will see his first time through he jumps the last cavaletti, but the second time he has it figured out. (He has done this exercise before, but we have to start from scratch every time.)
If your horse is lazy, you may need to approach the poles with more energy to keep the momentum through the exercise.
I included a few slow motion, close up clips to show exactly how your horse should place his feet and demonstrate the exaggerated bend of the joints.
When your horse has mastered this exercise, you can begin to raise the cavaletti to create even more bend and push. This was Grady’s first time trotting raised cavaletti (I know, where have we been, right?) so I only raised 2 alternating cavaletti up one level (one turn of the cavaletti). Like I said, eager beaver likes any excuse to jump, so I have to go slow with him as to not create any confusion, plus, I don’t want to strain his hind end.
When Grady saw the raised cavaletti, I felt him push harder as he was attempting to jump so I stopped him, backed him up and walked to the first rail and asked for trot. FOILED AGAIN! As you can see, his second attempt was marvelous!
I ended with another slow motion clip of Grady’s hind legs over the slightly raised rail.
What are you waiting for? Grab your breeches and boots and get to trotting! And don’t forget your helmet! Safety first! (Insert WaWaWaaaa… sound effect here.)