Expert Exercise: A New Angle

Ride across poles at an angle to unlock your horse’s shoulder movement.

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Most riders have experienced the value of schooling their horses over cavalletti: loftier, more rhythmic gaits and improved coordination and balance. Even better, there are different arrangements of poles that generate distinct results in a horse’s body carriage and movement. It also happens that how you ride across a pole can stimulate your horse’s muscle usage in new ways.

Riding over cavaletti at an angle
Photo: Donna Stidolph

To gain the usual benefits of cavalletti routines but also free up a horse’s tight shoulders, I recommend occasionally modifying how you ride across ground poles. This involves riding obliquely rather than straight across the poles.

By using this technique, first at the walk and then later at a slow trot, you’ll target the sling of muscles that suspends your horse’s torso. By pulling his front leg outward to step over the pole at an oblique angle, your horse must use the muscles surrounding his shoulder blade while also stabilizing his shoulder joint.

This practice can also help equalize the use of both sides of the horse’s body. For instance, if your horse is routinely “right-sided,” or stronger and tighter in his right shoulder, you will help loosen this pattern by asking him to open that leg outward from his body by approaching the ground poles at an angle.

Meanwhile, you can strengthen his weaker left side by approaching poles at an angle that requires him to take a step over the poles with his left front.

Begin by placing several ground poles around your arena in no particular arrangement. Just lay them down at random intervals around your space. It works best if there are several meters between each pole.

The coordination needed for this simple exercise helps lay the foundation for positive new patterns of movement, such as range of motion in the shoulder joint and core stability. It’s also a good way to tune up your own finesse and precision when riding over poles.

Riding Over Poles

  1. Start in an active, marching walk.
  2. Approach the first pole at a diagonal angle. Imagine someone having a bird’s eye view of you from overhead; your horse should appear to be crossing the pole perfectly diagonally.
  3. Turn and ride to your next pole. Keep riding over all the poles in your arena and crossing them obliquely.
  4. Do the same routine in a slow trot. The purpose of this routine is to emphasize the horse’s core stability; don’t be in a hurry. It’s better to have a slower trot than one that is too fast.
  5. Don’t cheat! Many riders begin getting distracted, in which case the horse takes charge and begins crossing each pole straight across instead of obliquely. Remain consistent with your approaches.

This article originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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