A very effective, but simple exercise to help train any horse are pole exercises. A pole exercise is when one or multiple poles are laid out on the ground, usually making one or more box shapes. The horse can do poles at walk, trot, or canter, and in different directions.
First, it is a bodybuilding exercise for the horse. The poles encourage the horse to pick their legs up, allowing them to build and gain more muscles. The effect of this depends on how high the poles are. You can use risers under the poles in order to make them lift their legs higher and engage their back-end more. Another way the pole exercises help the horse is that it forces the horse to gain an understanding of where they are putting their feet. With the horse now having to consider the poles as an obstacle that they need to go over within their strides, it forces them to look and judge where and how large their strides should be. The more a horse practices this, the more likely they will be able to put this ability into action when jumping.
This exercise also allows the horse to get used to changing the size of their strides depending on a certain course. Once again, if this exercise is continuously reinforced, the horse will become more comfortable with changing the size of their stride when given bigger and more technical courses. Finally, the pole exercise also teaches the horse to learn how to wait. A common problem seen in horses when doing this exercise is that they try to gain more speed when going over the poles, and effectively running off with the rider. This is an instinct that many horses also have when doing any type of jump or gymnastics. Therefore, doing this exercise tries to prevent the horse from doing this and get them to understand how to wait.
A suggestion for anyone wanting to do this exercise is to make sure you are using 9-foot boxes for cantering. You can add more poles or boxes and use raised poles depending on the difficulty you want.
A video of DeeDee (a resident warmblood) and Evelyn doing this exercise is posted below. DeeDee’s main problem is not waiting and the video shows what this looks like. Whereas Evelyn was completing this exercise correctly, and shows what it’s supposed to look like.