First of all apologies for this very delayed second part to the #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 if you have the luxury of being able to leave your poles out in the arena you could leave this set up for several sessions and not get bored!
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 the diagram in the Jump Position Over Poles blog post)
Part 1 concentrated on straightness, and now we're moving on to combining straight lines with curving lines to improve suppleness in your ponies.
Exercise 1: The Four Leaf Clover
- There are a couple of different ways to set up poles for a four-leaf clover (and of course you can do it without poles - but it is *much* clearer especially for children if they have the poles to aim for) but I find the pole square the easiest as it allows for the biggest circle size if you are riding in a standard 20m x 40m school.
- I find this exercise can be confusing to explain, but even very young children have had no issues riding it if you walk through it ahead of them the first time.
- Essentially you stay on the same rein to complete an entire 'four leaf clover'. I usually start from the centre line as that's a good way to sneak in practising a turn from the track onto the centre line - essential for dressage!
- In the diagram below, the exercise is being ridden on the right rein. So the rider turns onto the centre line at A, rides across both poles towards C, and then makes a turn to the right. They keep turning - essentially three quarters of a circle - to then straighten and ride straight across the poles on the B to E line. Once again, turn right after the poles and repeat the three-quarter circle to return back on the centre line, this time going from C to A. Repeat until all four 'leaves' have been completed.
- This exercise is best introduced in walk, but it can be done in trot, and even in canter although in a 20x40m school that does require a well balanced horse as the circles are only 10m diameter! For children, although many ponies undoubtedly would be nimble enough to get round the 10m circles in canter, they are unlikely to ride the exercise *well*, and so the suppleness benefits would be lost. For this reason, I stick to walk, and introduce in trot once established.
- It's important to think about breaking the exercise down into the straight segments and the circle segments - not only is this good steering practice for the ride, but it's good to improve contact and suppleness in the pony.
- Remember to repeat evenly on both reins! If done in walk, I would usually trot large to 'refresh the forwards' in between as it is a fairly demanding exercise if ridden well.
- Ask your young riders to think about which way their pony finds it easier to bend. Like humans being right or left-handed, ponies are generally more supple one way than the other. On their stiffer rein, the rider may need to use more inside leg to help keep the pony out on the circles, and work a little harder to make the turns.
Exercise 2: Straight lines with direction changes inside the square
- Technically this exercise might have slotted in better in the part 1 blog on 'straightness' - but there we go! Here, the rider can choose to 'mix up' the ways they enter and exit the square. In the example shown, we have come down into the square on the centre line, made an angled turn to the right and exited over the corner of the poles towards M. There are obviously lots of different ways you could mix this up!
- Ponies will generally find it easier to 'enter' the square over the centre of a pole, and 'exit' over a corner, as opposed to 'entering' over a corner and 'exiting' over the centres. Riding the latter can be excellent to test the straightness and accuracy from older riders - ponies will often naturally want to drift slightly through the shoulder to cross the end of a single pole rather than over the point made by two.
- See if your rider can keep a pattern flowing, using all the entry and exit points they can think of... this is good practice for planning and riding jumping courses! Remember the key points of rhythm, straightness/accuracy, and smooth, flowing turns that will help their pony stay balanced.
Exercise 3: Small circles over the pole corners
- Similar to the clover leaf, riding small circles over each corner of the pole square is brilliant for developing suppleness. The pony will step over each pole on a slight angle (curving line) if the circle is ridden correctly, and this encourages them to activate their inside hind a little more.
- Don't forget to work evenly on both reins!
Exercise 4: Curving lines over the poles - circles
- Once again working on suppleness, ride 20m circles over the pole square - using the square in this way can really help encourage children to find X, making sure that their 20m circle is in fact 20m!
- Again, the pony will cross the poles on a slightly curving line, encouraging them to activate their joints and pick their feet up more actively. Can the rider hold their accurate circle line and maintain rhythm over the poles?
- For more advanced riders, you could include transitions within/exiting the pole square; for example using the 'exit' pole to aid a canter transition.
- Join 20m circles at A and C together at X to make a figure of eight, where the rider is changing the bend and direction of the circle each time they ride through the pole square.
Exercise 5: Curving lines over the poles - shallow loops
- Using the corners of the pole square, try riding mini 'shallow loops' - you can join these together to make a repeating hour-glass shape using both sides of the square.
- Shallow loops are another brilliant suppleness exercise as we want to see the pony changing their bend to follow the curving lines they are on. For younger children, do not worry quite so much about this as simply developing accuracy over the corners of the poles - the rest will come in time!
Hopefully when combined with Part 1, these exercises will keep you busy for a few sessions! Which exercise using a pole square is your favourite? I like Exercise 2 from Part 1 (riding corner to corner over the poles) as a real test of accuracy and straightness, and I'm very fond of the clover leaf too!