Pole work exercises to improve straightness
Straightness is so important when it comes to jumping a clear round.
And by straight, I don't just mean not looking like you've had a few too many wines in the bar beforehand,
By all means, have your wines if you need, no judgement here!
As long as your horse's approach doesn't reflect that...
But when it comes to jumping, straightness also means your horse travelling on 2 lines (eg. his front and hind legs are following the same track), is not running through a shoulder, and is equal in the contact on both reins.
This is so vital not just to communicate to your horse where he needs to go and what you're expecting him to do... (AND not giving him a reason to decide not to do what you're expecting him to do...)
But also, because straightness builds strength. Which is something that is so important especially in a young horse as you want your horse to be produced with equal muscle definition on both sides.
Straightness comes hand in hand with balance,
If a horses approach to a fence isn't balanced, he is not going to take off equally on both hind legs, meaning the power is going to be offset, the distance to the fence isn't going to be equal, and the horse is more likely to leave a leg and have the fence down.
For this reason, I thought I would share a few exercises that I found really useful for improving straightness.
A little pointer to begin with...
And one that I have honestly only really seen the significance of recently.
So so often, we affect our horses without realising it.
Let's be honest, us horsey girls are always the first to brush our own ailments under the carpet, yet be the first to call the vet the second our horse looks at us funny.
So my first pointer is this,
How can you expect your horse to be straight if you are on the piss?!
Watch yourself ride and try and work on your own straightness, and look after your body...
I recently wondered why the 2 horses I have been riding in the past 12 months, both find the left rein easier than the right...
FLASHBACK to a fun moment a year ago when a young (and apparently cold backed) horse decided to faceplant me into the concrete yard...
YEP, IT HURT.
Cue lightbulb moment, I realised maybe, just maybe it's wonky me making the wonky horse...
Anyway, long story short, I've been having a lot of massage therapy and physio, and targeted workouts to even me out, and honestly, the difference its made is crazy.
So always make sure first that you are not the one hindering your horse when it comes to straightness!
Flatwork, flatwork, flatwork.
OK so I know I promised some pole work exercises, and trust me, we will get to that!
And I know I'm no dressage guru,
so taking flatwork advice from me is a bit like taking A levels advice from a footballer.. (sorry that was a bad analogy but it has been a long week!!)
But here's a few showjumpers tips on flatwork for straightness!!
Ride squares - squares are great for getting your horses outside hind leg underneath them and gives you a feel of the contact in your outside hand. Use your outside leg to turn the horse, then once you get that feeling, think about riding your corners to a fence in a similar way. This stops your horse running through their shoulder to a fence.
Leg yield - helps your horse to be responsive to your leg aids to travel sideways. The more responsive your horse is to these aids, the easier and quicker you can correct his straightness as you ride around a course.
Transitions - your horse is more likely to stay straight if he’s in front of your leg and moving positively forwards! But equally, in a downwards transition even within a pace, make sure that your horse stays straight and doesn't swing his quarters or lean on either rein, that way you can adjust your horse in front of a fence and still keep him underneath you. I do loads of transitions in my flat sessions but I also make sure I can push my horse on in canter and then close it down without losing balance or straightness.
Pole work exercises for straightness
Here comes the juice!
The bit you've been reading through 3mins worth of blurb for... no pressure me!
I really hope this is worth it now!!
OK, now I'm procrastinating through the pressure! Here are some of my favourite pole work exercises that are really helpful for working on straightness...
1.) A simple one to begin with!!
This is a really nice exercise for a wobbly young horse. You could start this off with trot poles and progress to canter poles, but have 2 sets of poles a distance apart and tram lines through the middle to guide the horse straight.
The main aim of this exercise is to ride straight through both sets of poles, using the guidelines to help keep you straight and keeping the same rhythm and pace without the poles as with.
You can then play around with this by doing a figure of 8 going down the centre poles as well, concentrating on the quality of the turns and decreasing the size of the loops to challenge your turns using the outside leg! You can even pop in the odd transition in the middle of the tram lines. Or if using canter poles, set then 5 strides apart and try shortening after the poles and go through the middle in 6 or even 7 strides whilst keeping straight and balanced.
It's a simple one but a goodie as there is plenty you can do with it.
Found cantering through that too easy?!
Try turning the middle pole into a little fence and test your control and straightness after a fence.
You could even turn all 3 poles into bounces to turn it into a gymnastics exercise, increasing the intensity of the work.
2.) The Triangle
Another one that can be done either in trot or canter. You can either practise your centre lines or changes of rein, making sure to hit the centre of each pole and the tip of the triangle points.
Start off by going through the poles to the point but then you can mix it up one you get the feel for it and come down from the point of the triangle to the line of poles to really test your straightness.
You can also work on your turns by coming up the centre line over the poles and then in the middle of the triangle change onto the diagonal line. Another great one for working on keeping the balance through the turns and responsiveness to the outside aids when turning because the other edge of the triangle that your not travelling over acts as a guide rail.
3.) The Interlocking S-bend
Lots of options with this one again!
You can go directly up through the middle of the poles as a set of 4 trot poles, across the middle using the horizontal poles as tram lines.
Serpentine through the s-bends using the outside aids to turn, start off in walk and progress to trot, when you've really got it nailed you can try canter with a flying change in the middle.
You can also canter a circle over the top right and bottom left corner poles to work on keeping your horse between hand and leg around the circle. Again, another goodie with plenty you can have a go at without setting up loads of poles!
Using poles with jumping
1.) Tramlines again!
There is absolutely no harm in using tram lines with your jumping too to help guide a young horse and keep him straight.
It can equally be a good exercise to use on a more experienced horse who anticipates a turn.
Place 2 sets of tram lines at either end of your school with a fence in the middle to encourage your horse to land and ride straight without predicting a turn. Can you get your horse to land on the leg you want without diverting off the centre line?! Can you stick a halt transition in between the tramlines?! These are all very important, life-altering questions!
V-rails are 2 poles in the shape of a 'V' with the central point resting on top of a verticle. They are so useful for funneling a horse to the center of the fence, but are also great at encouraging a horse to bascule and use himself properly over a fence, killing two birls with one stone!
Start off with the angle not being too severe, ie, the poles that are resting on the fence should not be right in the middle but at 1/3 and 2/3 of the length the pole, a young horse can find v-rails spooky to begin with and the last thing you want is for a youngster to over jump and scare himself, so just introduce it slowly.
Anyway, that's it!
I hope you found this useful and it's given you a few ideas to go and try for your next pole work session!
Let me know in the comments section if you tried any of these and if you found them useful!