Polework: Improving bend and suppleness

By Wiola Grabowska

Kelly & Mojo

Polework is becoming increasingly popular probably because it brings together elements of directed focus and fun.

Here is one of my favourite exercises that helps horse and rider develop better bend and suppleness.

Set up: 

  • you’ll need minimum of 6 poles
  • set them up in a shape of an “S” letter
  • the distances in the middle of the poles are set at about 1m

The How To: 

  • this exercise is done at a walk with you walking alongside your horse’s shoulder. During the change of bend, this gives the rider a good test of timing because you’ll need to continuously monitor the balance through your horse’s shoulders. On one of the turns you will be turning from outside in like you would when riding (rather than pull on inside rein to rescue turns) which again increases appreciation of how much outside shoulder movement is needed for a good turn.
  • start at either end walking slowly and with attention to accurate line through the middle of the poles
  • over the middle pole you’ll need to change direction and that is also the most beneficial and most testing step for your horse. He/she will need to accept your influence without speeding up, tripping over the poles, slowing down or losing balance and falling out/in.
Action caught by: Christine Dunnington Photography

You can do this exercise whilst riding too but I would really recommend giving it a go on the ground first. Rider’s perception of balance always increases via in-hand work/groundwork and that in turn develops “riding feel” in the saddle.


If your horse is young or particularly crooked or not used to working with you on the ground, you can start with this intro exercise.

  • walk with your horse on a 20m circle and try to notice how he/she likes to walk in both direction
  • notice how he/she distributes weight through their body, which foreleg/shoulder tends to carry more weight, which hindleg tends to push stronger than the other
  • notice which way they carry the neck, is it outwards/inwards and when
  • notice where is the horse tending to “lean” on you – is it through their ribcage, shoulders, maybe they just try to turn at you
  • Time: about 20 minutes or so
All action caught by Christine Dunnington Photography 

As you make these observations you will start having more of a picture of your horse’s balance and way of going on both reins.

You want to build this exercise up until you can walk with your horse by your side and be able to “shape” him/her by gentle touches where you feel they brace/fall in/tense up. The horse will learn your touch (i.e. your aids, your body language) is there to help them not to fight you (tension is just another form of fight).

It’s a super exercise that can transform the way your horse perceives your aids so it’s worth trying even with more experienced horses.

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