Horsemanship How-to: Help Your Horse Jump Better with Trot Poles

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Adding trot poles (often called placement poles) to your
schooling jumps can have a positive effect on your horse’s performance. They
can help regulate the pace of a horse that has begun to rush the jumps. They
also help a green horse understand just where to place their feet before taking
off, alleviating anxiety for both horse and rider. Here’s how to set them up.

Placement Pole

Since these are schooling exercises, practice over low,
simple jumps. For example, let’s use a typical crossrail, complete with ground
lines on both sides. Now walk off about ten feet (that’d typically be three
long walking strides plus one short step) from one side of the crossrail and
drop another ground pole there. Go to the other side of the crossrail, walk off
ten feet and do the same thing with another ground pole.

If you’re unsure of your footsteps, use a measuring tape to
check the distances. Plus, if your horse is particularly long-strided, roll the
placement poles out another 6” so he doesn’t feel cramped.

Now approach your exercise at a steady working trot. If you allow
your horse to trot quickly on a forward, strung-out stride, he may sense that
his steps won’t fit inside the placement poles and stop or run-out. Plus, he
needs time to evaluate this intriguing new test. By approaching at a
controlled, steady trot he has the chance to figure out the puzzle.

Ideally your horse will simply step over the first placement
pole, hop over the crossrail, then incorporate the placement pole on the
landing side into his next stride. The overall sensation should be smooth and
deliberate. If your horse leaps over the placement poles he’s trying too hard.
Or you may be using too much leg to help him jump. Relax and just concentrate
on maintaining a consistent pace, length of stride, and getting your horse to
the center of the crossrail. The placement pole on the take-off side will set
your horse up for the crossrail while the one on the landing side will re-balance
him upon landing, so that he doesn’t just land and gallop off.

Once your horse is secure with the crossrail exercise, you
can proceed to trotting a low, simple vertical. You can also set placement
poles on each side of other small verticals like gates and panels. With
practice, your horse will stop rushing and learn to trot jumps in good rhythm.
Green horses will gain confidence in their ability, and improve their form.
Eventually, you can remove the placement poles and graduate to cantering jumps.

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Cindy Hale
Cindy Hale’s life with horses has been filled with variety. As a child she rode western and learned to barrel race. Then she worked as a groom for a show barn, and was taught to harness and drive Welsh ponies. But once she’d taken her first lessons aboard American Saddlebreds she was hooked on English riding. Hunters and hunt seat equitation came next, and she spent decades competing in those divisions on the West Coast. Always seeking to improve her horsemanship, she rode in clinics conducted by world-class riders like George Morris, Kathy Kusner and Anne Kursinski. During that time, her family began raising Thoroughbred and warmblood sport horses, and Cindy experienced the thrills and challenges of training and showing the homebred greenies. Now retired from active competition, she’s a popular judge at local and county-rated open and hunter/jumper shows. She rides recreationally both English and western. Her Paint gelding, Wally, lives at home with her and her non-horsey husband, Ron.

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