Last week I promised a further #trainingtip blog on exercises you can ride using the square of poles layout featured in our Back To School Squares tests.
A four-pole square is a super-flexible layout, and so I'll actually be breaking down some ideas into multiple blog posts, as there is just so much you can do with this humble layout of four poles!
To set up, it's really simple - you just need four poles of equal length (ours our 10ft poles, which are perfect for ponies) set in a square around X, with the poles parallel to the sides of the arena (see our diagram in last week's blog post)
Today's two exercises concentrate on straightness - an important skill in any discipline!
- In walk or trot, ride down the centre line from A to C / C to A, using the centre stripes on the poles to help guide you straight.
- Ride across the school from E to B / B to E, again using the centres of the poles to keep you straight.
- Add in simple transitions - for example in walk, ride a halt in the centre of the square. The box of poles helps guide you and keep your pony straighter!
- For more advanced riders, practice riding trot to halt transitions - these feature in many dressage tests for the final halt and salute (though at the lower levels they can be progressive - this means a step or two of walk is allowed between trot and halt)
- Also for more advanced riders, practice transitions before and after the poles - for example can you walk down the centre line, picking up trot before the poles, trotting over them and then transitioning back to walk? And vice versa (trot, transition to walk over the poles, trot). This is a great way of testing how straight you can ride through your transitions!
- Pay attention to how many steps your pony takes in between the poles. Is it the same every time? The amount of steps will vary depending on the size of your pony - Maisie is 14hh, and takes three trot steps between the poles (10ft distance) when MiniD rides her (shown in the second part of the promo clip below). We should always be looking for a consistent rhythm and stride length, with good active steps.
- In walk or trot, ride from 'corner to corner' diagonally over the poles. This is a much trickier test of straightness, as many ponies will want to take the easier option of deviating slightly to the sides of the 'point' of the poles. Notice how in the video Maisie comes back to walk over the first corner - Maisie is an experienced SJ pony, but less experienced in 'creative' polework, and unusual placing of poles of the ground sometimes causes her to take a second look! With a more experienced rider this could have been avoided by riding 'up' and forwards more positively - you will see on the second crossing of the poles MiniD is more prepared and rides more positively.
- Going diagonally over the poles encourages the pony to lift up through their core and round their backs more - many will also lower their heads to look, especially if it's the first time they've done this sort of exercise. This is exactly the sort of posture we want to encourage, and so it is a good opportunity for the rider to develop the 'feel' of a pony working correctly in this way. Over time, this way of going can be developed without poles to help!
- Once again, be aware of how many steps your pony is taking over the poles - the diagonal line is longer, so here Maisie takes four even steps in trot.
- Pay attention to the overall shape and flow of the exercise - you want two straight lines (creating an 'X' shape) over the corners of the pole square, connected by even and round half circles - this is a good exercise to develop suppleness.
So, whether you are taking part in the Back To School Squares dressage or not, I hope you will still enjoy riding over this layout. I'll post again with some further exercises for the pole square layout soon!