Breanna Kaho
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Don’t Let Ground Pole Work Turn Into Pick Up Sticks

You may remember a video we shared earlier this year of Kelley Shetter-Ruiz and Tristan the “wonder horse” performing some really intricate ground pole exercises. Now, Kelly and her student, Breanna Kaho, have collaborated to bring us their tips for ground pole work in anticipation of an eBook coming out on November 27. You can pre-order the book here.

Kelley Shetter-Ruiz and Tristan the wonder horse. Photo courtesy of Mike Shetter.

Kelley Shetter-Ruiz and Tristan the wonder horse. Photo courtesy of Mike Shetter.

Winter is coming, and it is a great time to work on ground pole work. Once you have set up your fantastic exercise, what happens if things don’t go as planned? Ground pole exercise guru and horse trainer Kelley Shetter-Ruiz of Carpe Diem Training has some tips to prevent your ground pole work aspirations from turning into a game of pick up sticks.

1. Start Slow

Rome wasn’t built in a day. You might love Kelley and Tristan’s extreme poles exercises, but they shouldn’t be what you set up for your first try. Even Tristan and Kelley started over a single pole. A single pole helps test your horse’s confidence. If your horse doesn’t bat an eye at the walk or trot, set up a set of four straight ground poles and expand from there. If your horse gets over faced by what you have set up, don’t be afraid to take a step back.

2. Prepare Your Horse

A proper warmup is everything. Remember the three R’s: rhythm, relaxation, and response. Establish rhythm, relaxation, and responsiveness to your aids before attempting any pole work.

Performing a proper half halt helps your horse establish a steady rhythm and relax over their topline, and asks your horse to pause so you can slow down their front end and their tempo. If your horse is unresponsive to your leg when you ask for a more energetic gait, try cantering and then transitioning to the trot to go through your exercise.

3. Set Poles Correctly for Your Horse

Does something not seem right? Is your horse reaching excessively or seems short strided through the poles? Is your horse knocking the poles? Make sure the distance you have set between poles is correct for your horse.

An 18-hand Thoroughbred and a pony need very different spacing between poles. If you’re not sure if the poles distance seems right for your horse’s stride, have a friend be your eyes on the ground and take a look.

4. Don’t Overdo It

Doing the same thing over and over is boring for you and your horse, so mix it up. Run through your pole exercise a few times, then do some flat work or ring figures.

Once your horse has had a moment to refresh, try the pole exercise a few more times. If your horse has suddenly become agitated or disobedient through a pole set they were fine with a moment ago, they might be feeling burnt out, so take a quick break. Don’t forget to end your ride on a good note.

5. Use Proper Materials

Make safety a priority! PVC poles might be lightweight and easier for you to drag into the arena, but if your horse steps on one, it could shatter resulting in serious injury to your horse.

Try using eight-foot landscaping timbers found at most home improvement stores. Be sure the poles you select are free of splinters and are straight. Inspect your poles regularly, as they can warp over time, which may affect the distance you set between poles. A good coat of paint can help preserve your poles, and add a layer of fun to any ride.

If you’re looking for inspiration for your winter ground pole work, check out Kelley and Tristan’s eBook Fun with Ground Poles Starring Tristan the Wonder Horse: Beginner Edition, to find even more helpful hints including information on: materials needed, how to set up ground poles, warm up suggestions, and nine creative beginner ground pole exercises.