Western Dressage Exercise – Weekly Jog Pole Pattern

You might be wondering why so many of my dressage exercises use ground poles, and I can assure you there is no shortage of good reasons for this. Consistent work over ground poles in rhythmic gaits with a rounded topline can lead to all kinds of positive results. Primarily, it helps create stifle flexion in the hind legs, which sets off a chain reaction of other desirable effects. Because of the interconnectedness of the horse’s hindquarter musculature through fascia, this controlled stifle flexion also positively tensions abdominal muscles, draws the hind legs further under the body, and supples the low back. I consider using ground poles the way to work smarter, not harder. Allow the pole patterns to activate your horse’s hind legs and you can then be quieter as the rider without using busy or strong aids.

Also by virtue of their fixed spacing, ground poles develop cadence and balance in the horse’s gaits by controlling foot placement, which confirms regularity in the stride rhythm. jogging over ground polesThe horse achieves animation in his limbs and precision of limb movement. The oscillating effect on spinal vertebrae and rounded flexion accomplished by balanced travel over poles helps eliminate stiffness in the neck and hindquarters. By creating a horse that is looser in the topline and more attentive about stride and foot placement, you are then prepared to make a stronger horse.  The late Dr. Reiner Klimke, multiple Olympic gold medalist and German riding master, credited the weekly use of ground pole exercises for his historic dressage success. In addition to their unrivaled conditioning results, these types of exercises made a more effective rider, in his view. Many top dressage riders to this day use some form of work with poles on a regular basis, from simple patterns on straight lines to raised cavalletti to gymnastic jumping.

The value of this kind of training cannot be overstated, although it bears mentioning that benefits are unaccomplished if practice happens less than 1-2 times every week. Otherwise, you will not see gains, from lack of recruiting the horse’s musculature often enough. Physiological adaptations only happens with frequent practice.  Many riders are unsure how to space ground poles. The optimal distance for basic work is when the horse takes a comfortable and normal length jog step over each pole. It should not feel that he has shortened his step or wants to add an additional stride between poles. Always begin with straight lines of travel over poles until rhythm and posture are established before moving on to curved lines. As a general rule, space the jog poles between 3 feet, 8 inches, and 4 feet apart.

Jog Poles

  1. Place 5 wooden ground poles on the ground spaced at the distance described above specific to your horse.
  2. Proceed in posting jog over the CENTER of the poles, maintaining a lively tempo.
  3. Ride around your arena or circle and cross poles again.
  4. Ride 8-10 times across, then take a break by changing direction or take a 30-second walk rest.
  5. Repeat the poles another 10 times.

Reminders: Most riders drift to the outer edges of the poles. This means your horse is crooked and not using his body well. You MUST ride a straight line over the center of the poles. Another common error is to ‘throw away’ the reins when crossing the poles. In order to keep your horse balanced and rounded, you must keep your elbows bent and maintain a soft feel of the contact while riding poles. Lastly, be sure there is NO tempo change in your gait when you ride the poles (some horses will slow down to a dribble, others turn in to race cars).

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

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