This exercise was initially suggested to us by Sam of Back-In-Line as a follow up training element complementing the McTimoney treatments the horses have been receiving. The idea is to encourage the horse to become more mobile and relaxed through the whole back area behind the saddle. It certainly does that but it also made two rather buzzy, over-reactive horses deal with pole work in a much calmer and relaxed manner.
The video below shows Emma B. with her ex-racehorse “Shabby” doing this exercise for the first time.
1. Approach a line of poles in walk (I set the distances fairly randomly at 2.5m to 3m apart)
2. Halt at random place(s) and stand immobile for 10 seconds or so.
3. Move off
We repeated the exercise 10 times changing the rein half way through. As you can see, there is some resistance in Shabby’s reactions which we are working on but he remained calm enough for the exercise to have a really good effect on his later work in the lesson.
Merehead, another ex-racehorse, has quite panicky reaction to poles so we did the exercise in-hand. If you have a horse that gets anxious and jumpy when presented with new exercise I would really recommend getting off and doing it all first on foot. My reason being that the whole idea is for the horse to benefit from the exercise (physically and mentally) rather than simply “conquer” it…
Doing the exercise in-hand lets the handler guide the neck into horizontal position and prevent undue tension and ridden anticipation from turning the exercise from constructive into destructive.
At the end of the lesson Merehead walked over the poles very calmly under the saddle which was very unlike him (he tends to jump the poles or become very agitated at simply being pointed at them) so we will definitely be using this exercise more not only as part of physical training of a healthier way of moving but also mental acceptance of the task in hand.