Treatments by a therapist are only the beginning — follow them up with exercises at home and you’ll be amazed with the results. Veterinary physiotherapist Hayley Marsh offers a variety of strengthening exercises to do at home in between treatments using polework.
To increase the range of motion of the limbs and joints, engage the hindquarters, increase stride length and core stability, and improve balance and proprioception (the sense of position and movement). The following exercises can be done under saddle, in-hand, on the lunge or in long-reins.
1. Raised poles
Set out six poles in a line, spaced so that there is one footfall between each pole, and work through them in walk first, followed by trot once you’ve amended the distance. Next, raise alternate ends of the poles (beginning with one at a time for inexperienced horses) to about a foot to increase the range of motion in the joints. On approach, make sure that the horse is balanced and straight, and let him find his own way through the poles. Don’t hold him together.
2. The maze
Set up a maze, as in the video. Walk through in a forward, balanced walk. As you turn each corner, open your inside hand to encourage the horse to bend through his body in the direction of travel and place your inside leg behind the girth, encouraging him to step under and cross over with his hindlegs. Once set up, you can also use this exercise to walk and trot over the poles (see arrows on diagram below).
3. Fan of poles
Set out five poles in a fan shape (pictured below) with a foot’s width between the poles at the narrow end of the fan, and about five to six feet’s width at the widest. Ask the horse to work his way through the poles in balance, ensuring he is active. Shorten and lengthen his stride depending on which line he takes over the poles. Ensure he has a slight inside bend through his body.
Tips and pitfalls
- Walk is the most effective pace to perform polework in as there is no moment of suspension, so all movement is performed through muscular effort.
- The closer the poles are together, the more the horse has to sit back and push from behind and, alternatively, the further they are set apart, the more the horse has to lengthen his stride — be aware that this can encourage the horse to fall onto his forehand.
- The benefits of working horses over poles without a rider are that it allows the horse to move more through his back and core. This is also beneficial as the rider then has the chance to see how the horse is moving.
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