Equestrian Life
Four exercises to avoid hitting poles

Samantha McIntosh (NZL) rides Check In 2 © FEI/Libby Law

Samantha McIntosh (NZL) rides Check In 2

© FEI/Libby Law


Words by Sophie Baker

If your horse is regularly taking poles, you’ll want to do everything you can to help encourage them to be more careful.

The reason for knocking could be many things, from rider error through to lack of balance in the horse. And of course, some horses are naturally careful while others don’t mind making you play pick up sticks. The FEI ooked at some of these possible reasons in a previously featured story, which can be viewed here. 

If your horse is more the latter than former, there are some things you can try to help and encourage them to pick up those feet over fences… 

 1. Getting Slightly Deep to the Fence 

When you’re working on getting a horse to develop his technique and be more careful, it can be really useful to get in to the fence slightly deeper than usual. In the same way that being slightly long to the fence can make a horse jump flat, getting close makes them really lift their shoulders, stretch the neck, and push off the ground with both hind legs.

This isn’t the same as getting to the fence on a half distance, mind! You want to keep a good quality canter and ideally use a placing pole three metres in front of the fence. You may need to adjust this slightly depending on your horse’s size or stride, but three metres is a good starting point. This should get you to the base of the fence and if your canter is good, will encourage your horse to ‘pop up’ off the ground with more push and power.

You can also do this from a trot to help encourage the horse to use power rather than speed to clear the fence. 

 2. High Cross Poles 

Using cross poles where the ends gradually go higher serves two purposes. Firstly, it really encourages them to stay straight as the sides of the poles go higher. Keeping your horse straight to a fence will always help them to jump more cleanly as they can push off evenly without hanging a leg or diving to the side. Plus, a straight horse is more likely to be connected through the back and thus less resistant to the aids.

Secondly, the higher edges of the cross tends to help horses to pick up their feet to avoid touching the sides. This gives you the effect of jumping bigger to help a lazy or disinterested horse pay attention and put in some effort, but without having to actually jump enormous fences.

3. Low and Wide Oxer

Low and wide oxers can be incorporated as part of a grid, or as their own exercise. You want to keep the rails very low, but move the front and back ones apart so that the jump is wider than it is high. This can help careless horses to pay attention, but also teaches them to really open up and stretch over the fences, encouraging good use of the back.

This low and wide setup will also help your horse to be more mindful of his back legs.

If they become very wide you may need rest an extra pole diagonally on one corner of the back rail to the opposite corner of the front rail. This is just to help the horse understand that he needs to jump the whole thing, not go through it like a bounce.


Rhys Williams (IRL) riding K-Little Hero D’18 © FEI/Dirk Caremans

Rhys Williams (IRL) riding K-Little Hero D’18

© FEI/Dirk Caremans


 4. Gymnastics and Grids 

Gymnastics and grids can be used in so many different ways to encourage your horse to be more careful with his jump. The type of approach you use would depend on your horse’s specific problem. 

For instance, a horse who is green or lacking strength would need gymnastics which are designed to help improve his technique and build confidence at the same time. This might mean having only one larger fence at the very end of the line after a 2 or 3 stride distance so the horse has time to get organised.

This would be useful for a horse who knocks at bigger fences or who really hasn’t figured out how to use his body properly yet. 

For a horse who is scopey but just slow off the ground because they are growing, unbalanced, or a little bit lazy it might mean sticking to low exercises like bounces to develop agility and strength whilst asking them to think and react quickly.

For an established horse who is bored or who just isn’t worried about taking a rail, you might incorporate a variety of elements like fillers or v-poles along with some shortening and lengthening of the canter stride. For a horse who is strong and gets flat, you might use lots of canter poles in between the fences of a gymnastic to back them off and create a more collected canter.

Choosing the right gymnastic exercise will require assessing what your horse’s capabilities and specific issues are and then building lines to address that. This is always best done with the help of someone experienced on the ground.

In the end, a horse who doesn’t mind knocking a rail in a pinch is unlikely to ever become “allergic to wood,” as they say! However, with these tips, you can hopefully improve your horse’s jumping technique.

Building a better technique along with more strength and balance gives your horse the opportunity to jump with more power and use their body more effectively. This in itself should make them more likely to go clear.

Source: The FEI







© copyright. Equestrian Life. Wednesday, 26 January 2022