Three Pole Exercises to Improve Your Horse’s Canter

One of the hardest things about schooling our horses can be staying motivated and coming up with a good plan for your schooling sessions – especially when you are confined to an arena during the winter months! Polework is a great way to keep both you and your horse focused, motivated and provide some variety in your schooling.

This post will look at three simple pole exercises you can set up in 10-15 minutes or less, and work to improve your horse’s canter. You can simplify or progress each of these exercises, depending on what stage your horse is at in their training, and the best thing of all is that these exercises mean you don’t have to work so hard in your sessions – the exercises do the teaching!

1. Two Poles

This is one of the easiest, and most valuable pole exercises you will ever do. Chris Burton credits this exercise as being instrumental to making him a fast cross country rider – watch this video from Horse & Country TV to see more on this exercise.

Good for: 

  • Improving adjustability in the canter
  • Teaching you to see a stride
  • Ensuring your horse is responsive to your aids.

Set it up:

Place two poles on the ground anywhere between 4-6 strides apart. You do not have to walk out the distance perfectly – in fact a less-than-perfect distance is actually better for this exercise, and will result in a more educational experience for you and your horse!

Ride it: 

  1. Come in a balanced canter, and ride down between the two poles to establish the ‘normal’ number of strides that your horse makes in between the poles.
  2. Ride over this a few times until you can ensure the pole is in the middle of your horse’s canter stride without any change to his rhythm.
  3. Shorten your horse’s canter and add an extra stride in between the poles. Repeat until you can nail point two on the collected canter.
  4. Lengthen your horse’s canter and take away a stride in between the poles. Repeat until you can nail point two in the extended canter.
  5. Come back to ‘normal’ canter, and repeat.

Take it up a level: 

  • Take two strides away in lengthened canter, or add two strides in collected canter.
  • Add a pole into the middle of your two poles and practice different numbers of strides between the poles, e.g two strides to the first and three strides to the second, and vice versa.

For more insight into how to ride this exercise, watch this video with Piggy French:


2. The Clock Face

Good for: 

Improving balance, control and rhythm in your horse’s canter.

Set it up: 

Place four poles on a 20m circle in the shape of a clock – the poles should be placed at 12-3-6-9 on the clock face.

Ride it:

Depending on how fit and athletic your horse is, you may want to introduce this exercise gradually, as it is physically taxing.

  1. Start by cantering over just two poles (12 & 6 or 3 & 9) to introduce your horse to the exercise. Do this on both reins.
  2. Canter over the middle of the four poles to make a 20m circle. Do this on both reins.
  3. When your horse is comfortable cantering over the middle of the poles in an even, consistent rhythm, progress to cantering over the inside of the poles on a shorter stride, and the outside of the poles on a lengthened stride.

Take it up a level:

The poles can be made into cross-poles to increase the complexity of the exercise and work on jumping out of a rhythm.

This video illustrates the exercise really well:


3. Poles on a Curve/Circle

Good for: 

Improving your horse’s rhythm and suppleness on both reins.

Set it up: 

Place four poles on a curve/circle spaced three walk steps (three yards) apart at the middle of the pole – the outside of the poles will naturally be further apart, and the inside of the poles closer together.

Ride it:

  1. Commence your circle in canter, and canter over the middle of the poles in a nice even rhythm. Do this on both reins.
  2. Once your horse is cantering over the middle of the poles in an even rhythm, progress to cantering over the inside of the poles on a shorter stride, and the outside of the poles on a lengthened stride.

Take it up a level:

Increase the number of poles to six, and create a small jump out of every second pole, so that you have three small jumps and a pole on the ground in front of each jump. Canter over these on a curve. Tip: If your horse is not particularly supple, you can start by raising one side of the pole alternately until your horse is comfortable, and then raise the other side to create a jump.

This is a great video of Jay Halim riding this exercise:

For more great pole exercise inspiration, consider following Horsephysio on Facebook, as well as the 101 Jumping Exercises for Horse & Rider book (which I love!).

I will try these exercises at home this week and get a video – it would be great if you tried them to see your videos too!

Natalie xo

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