Some time ago there was a photo circulating on social media with potties being used to raise poles off the ground and play the role of inexpensive low cavalettis.
Yesterday, Gemma brought her latest purchase – 8 bright green IKEA potties – to the yard to give them a test drive in the lesson.
She owns Ozzy, a 5 year old for whom pole work/balance work are an important part of the exercise routine.
I use poles in their lessons regularly and they have a very positive effect on Ozzy’s coordination and suppleness which in turn improve his balance. Raising poles off the ground helps with encouraging more bend in all the joints of the hind legs, has a very good effect on Ozzy’s usual downhill way of going by naturally creating more hind legs effort and shoulder lift as well as helping with the gelding’s straightness (as his suppleness improves he starts using himself more symmetrically which makes it possible to improve his straightness).
In canter, the pole work highlight differences in Ozzy’s body use on the left and right rein which gives us ideas for exercises and routines to use to help him even the work up.
If you have a young horse you are bringing on, using cavalettis as part of their flatwork can be a really fun element of the overall training.
The IKEA potties are proving very easy to handle (light to move about), don’t roll at light touches and if the poles get rapped harder by the horse, the potties just “fall over” without rolling away much at all.
They hold the poles we use easily allowing for a roll over of about an inch either way. I think it would be great to collect more of them 😉
Do you use poles/cavaletti in your training? What’s your usual set up?
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.
STEP 1. Warm up: about 10min (5min if your horse is very settled and happy to get going)
Start from walking with your horse around the arena or area where you will later set up the exercises. Your aim is for the horse to walk quietly next to you without rushing forward or lagging behind. You want him to be relaxed but attentive in a ground covering walk. The picture above shows a 3 year old ex-racehorse recently taken off track walking next to me in a nice, relaxed frame. Avoid moving on to any exercises until the horse is calm and pays attention to you – working tense muscles (and mind) only leads to further tension, possible disobedience and resentment.
STEP 2: Exercise 1
This is a very nice exercise that teaches the horse to move away on cue as well as coordinate each limb as they navigate the vertical line of poles. Place the poles on centre line of the arena near C (or A). Walk your horse down 3/4 line from opposite end and gently start moving him across shallowly leg-yielding towards centre line. Keep the movements slow enough that the balance of the horse is challenged and you don’t encourage forehand heavy way of going. Keep leg-yielding over the poles giving the horse time to get his feet out of the way. Repeat a few times on each rein.
This exercise not only helps with proprioception, balance and offers gentle shoulder and back end stretch but also teaches the horse to place the weight on one or the other front leg/shoulder on the cue of the handler which is later very useful when riding balanced turns and circles.
STEP 3: Exercise 2
You will need 4 poles and something to raise them on – we used mini blocks similar to these. Start with all poles flat on the ground and walk the horse back and forth letting him find his own distances and have a good look at the poles. If all good, start raising the ends one by one until all are up and start changing the pattern of crossing the poles – walk over the corners, slalom in and out etc Many horses really enjoy this exercise and the young boy above was no exception 🙂
Keep those exercises short and sweet, the above session lasted 20min including warm up.