Thursday, December 14, 2017

Arena Patterns: Ground Poles and Box

This is another easy pattern or obstacle for your arena, consisting of ground poles and a box, that everyone can use and use in multiple ways so you and your horse and can get a lot out it. While it can just be used as ground poles to go over and over with your horse to help him learn to pick his feet up, and to help you with the timing of the feet, it can also be used for turns, backing, side passing and tight turn arounds with forward momentum, which judging from the Arena Obstacle Challenges I run each year, seem to be a problem area for many horses and riders.

I had a client in my arena riding a horse who was half draft horse - pretty tall maybe 17 hands, but short backed actually. The pair had a problem with turning tight circles. We weren't going to get everything solved that day, but after working on lateral and vertical flexion, and controlling the head/neck, front end, barrel and back end - which I advocated doing everytime that horse was pulled to ride, we moved onto the drills you see in the diagrams below. As I demonstrated the many various things you can do with ground poles, the client said words to the effect that she "would have never thought about doing anything but riding over the ground poles like cavalettis, like in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1. Riding over the ground poles really helps the horse pick his feet up. The change of interval from the first five poles to the last ground pole on the far side of the circle adds a challenge in concentration. I think this exercise also puts a reason into asking the horse to get soft, drop his nose vertical, as it helps him see the ground poles.  You can also change up the interval from pole to pole.

Figure 2. This is pretty much the same exercise as Figure 1 but adds a small circle under forward momentum in the box. I have my box with 6 foot long sides, but if you have a really large horse you can extend the box somewhat. I do that for big horses competing in Arena Obstacle Challenges. The idea is to do this circle smoothly without it looking like a narrow turn on the hocks, then a step forward, then another narrow turn on the hocks. It helps if the horse is soft and can follow his nose keeping the bend without fading out - which requires forward momentum. The follow on to the circle in the box is to do the circle using only a neck rein and once you can do that, do it using only leg cues and pressure.
Figure 3. This exercise is riding between the ground poles, doing a turn around after you get through the poles in order to get lined up and go through the next set.  The basic idea is to do a 180 degree turn with forward momentum.  You can turn on the front end or on the hocks which will likely require re-lining up a bit to proceed forward through the next ground poles.  After four trips between the ground poles, you enter the box and execute a 360 degree turn with forward momentum.
Figure 4. This is pretty challenging - riding forward between two poles, side passing to get lined up for the next set, then backing up. Repeating this until you can side pass over then step into the box for a tight circle.
While you could ride over this pattern and these obstacles for a while before ever doing the same thing, if you change up the way you enter the poles, or doing it in reverse, I would consider sticking to a particular pattern until you horse gets comfortable with it and improves quite a bit before you change it up.  You can also side pass over the poles - in fact, another way I use ground poles is to trot over them and stop my horse so he has his front feet on one side of a ground pole and the rear feet on the other side of the pole, then side pass him one direction or the other.    

You are only limited by your imagination and what's safe for you and your horse to perform.  One more variation is that once inside the box, position up and do turns on the hocks or on the front end rather than doing a circle.           

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