Western Dressage Exercise – Lope Pole Work

When a horse lopes with his hind legs trailing, stiff, or hurrying, he pushes his weight on to his front legs. This extra weight causes him to put his front legs down quicker to catch his balance each stride. The rider then loses the feeling of loftiness needed in the lope strides to create collection. In a collected, springy lope, a rider wants to feel the horse’s balance going uphill in front of the saddle like riding a carousel horse.

Pole work proves a means of re-balancing a horse that canters with hurried or choppy strides. Loping over a pole on the ground causes the horse to be more precise with his foot placement during a stride, which means he goes about the stride differently than normal. This interruption in his typically gravity-laden stride allows the rider a chance to show him how to use his body better. By teaching the horse to travel up to and over the pole with a specific rhythm and preparation, we can help him change his canter mechanics. By altering placement of poles, we can help him put his feet down either more quickly or slowly. When we gain this adjustability in his stride, we help him use his back and hindquarters more correctly for uphill balance.

If you are going to ride multiple poles, you will need to determine the length of your horse’s average lope stride. Common wisdom says to start with a distance of 10-feet and modify from there. The following exercise is spaced for a small riding horse with a relatively balanced canter. Give it a try first with the recommended spacing and then adjust the pole distances if you find yourself hitting poles or gaining speed when riding over the pattern. The poles should NOT feel like a struggle or a jump for the horse. They should feel very manageable, allow the horse to maintain his working lope rhythm, and give the rider a feeling of increased collection. As you ride over the poles, look up at the horizon and tell yourself “sit down, sit down, sit, sit sit.”

Western-Dressage-Exercise-Lope Pole Work


Western Dressage Weekly Exercise – authored by Jec Ballou | Copyright © 2013

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2 Responses to “Western Dressage Exercise – Lope Pole Work

  • Jec Ballou
    5 years ago

    Hi Heather,

    apologies for the confusion. The text that precedes the diagram is the intro version of this pattern, where the horse executes a simple bounce landing between the two poles and then exiting over the second pole. I always start with a distance of 10 feet here because I find that is the most common average lope stride length for a working lope. At this point, the lope stride should be neither highly collected nor strung out and long. The goal is to help the horse execute a nicely rounded bounce without tensing up and also without getting lazy about knocking poles around or trying to leap over both poles in one jump. The goal in this intro version is to help him travel cleanly through the poles with good form and rhythm. Then, you can move on to the more advanced incarnation, which is shown in the diagram. Here I expect the horse to shorten his stride length in a collected lope, with his strides now measuring 6-8 feet approx. Now you cross over the first pole and then lope a second stride before exiting over the second pole. That is where the figure of 16-feet comes from. Again, that is merely an approximation and much depends on any given horse’s form and confidence in the lope.

  • Why 16 feet? If you are figuring 3 feet for take off and landing that equals 6. Whick is a lope stride. 10 feet would be an odd stride length wouldn’t it?