I am a firm believer in pole work and try to get a session in at least once a week. A couple of the other girls down the yard also join in with our pole work sessions. These sessions have become ‘Pole work Thursdays’! We share all our ideas for future pole work exercises on the horse training app, Huufe. After all, carrying ten trillion poles to and from the arena isn’t much fun on your own. Like they say, ‘Many hands make for light work’.

chestnut dressage horse

What They Have Done for Us

Poles really help engage Aladdin’s brain and (occasionally) his sloppy leg movement. Along with pushing me to use my leg aids accurately to keep him straight or correct over the pattern.

When we first moved to our current stables back in October our experience was fairly limited to trot poles and corner poles. However, as we worked harder and improved together we moved on from our trotting poles to straight forward canter poles.

The use of canter poles in our weekly sessions saw him gradually opening up his canter and his rhythm improving. We didn’t restrict our pole work to just flatwork, we also incorporated them when jumping. On one of our jump lessons, we started with a line of four canter poles to gradually build up to a double. We had set it up with pony strides, however, due to Aladdin’s canter stride opening up so much he nearly missed a pole out and flew the rest with his legs in a tangle. Not the outcome we wanted. But with the simple fix of changing over our striding to horse strides, he was flying again. His canter through the double was balanced and consistent, giving us a good jump over both jumps. The below exercise help with striding preparations between a double, you can also have a pole on landing to encourage you to think forward and recover your position.

Canter pole diagramMoving Forward

The pole work we’ve done so far has really helped improved both mine and Aladdin’s performance. To further our performance, soon I hope to start doing raised canter pole exercises to help engage Aladdin’s back end. I shall also be doing more of our usual pole work exercises but with no stirrups. This is to make me more aware of my lower leg position and how it affects Aladdin’s movement. We share all our pole work exercises on the horse training app, Huufe, if you want to see more.

bay horse trotting over poles

Different Exercises

One of the beauties of pole work is that you can make it as simple or as difficult as you please.

Basic canter poles

A line of canter poles down the middle of the school can be used for more than just canter. One other way they can be used is practising serpentines/ bending. Using them to weave your horse in and out of. Weaving from one side of the school to the other using the canter poles as a guide to ensuring each serpentine segment is even in size. They can also be used for straightness when travelling in between two poles. Having two poles either side of you, acting much like a wall, after turning can give you aid for straightness. The below exercise encourages you to use your legs to keep your horse straight whilst using all of the arenas to keep a rhythmical pace.

Canter pole work exercise for horses

Clock Face

My favourite pole workout uses only four poles. I lay them like a clock, one at 12, 3, 6, 9.  This simple layout has so many exercises. Working over the poles in the clock face pattern, makes both you and your horse think about striding. The poles ensure that you have to work in a consistent rhythm, otherwise, your horse won’t get the right stride for the next pole. You can also work around the individual poles. Circling each pole individually can help again with rhythm and suppleness.

Clock Face pole work horse exercise


A good warm up exercise is working on the inner circle and switching from rising trot to sitting trot every time you go over one of the ground poles.

When fully warmed up we often canter the outer circle for a couple of laps, opening up the canter somewhat. Then work back down to a smaller inner circle whilst maintaining the canter. This is a great way to ensure Aladdin is listening to me. It also helps with adjusting his stride within his canter gait, making him shorten and lengthen his stride when asked. Great for such things as showjumping.

Cutting Corners

Aladdin loves nothing more, than when in a Dressage test than to cut corners (he sees it as saving time and effort, the judges don’t share his opinion unfortunately). To overcome this habit that he’s developed I use poles at home to ensure we travel into every corner. Placing the poles, as pictured below, encourages the rider to use their leg to get the horse to bend into the corner with the outside rein supporting the action. Rather than using their hands to just pull the head round, leaving you with a crooked horse (not good on a dressage sheet.)

pole work corner exercise for horses

Group Clinics

If you ever get the opportunity to do a pole clinic I would definitely recommend it. After all, you don’t have to move all the poles yourself. Working in a group can also have many positive effects. We created a pole work group on the horse training app, Huufe, so we can share exercises & videos of our sessions! Being in a group also gives your legs a break in between exercises. You can also watch how the other horses work over the poles, giving you an insight as to how each exercise engages both horse and rider.





Danielle Burns

Author: Danielle Burns

Danielle is a 23 year old, ambitious rider hoping to get ‘somewhere’ with her loan horse Aladdin, a six year old Cob x Anglo Arab -definitely more Arab than cob, looks can be deceiving! They are on a mission to compete in every discipline under the sun. Favouring barrel racing, closely followed by showjumping. Horses have been a huge part of her life and hopes to be able to do much more in the future!

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