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Horsemanship How-to: Help Your Horse Jump Better with Trot Poles

Improve your horse's jump with help from trot poles.

By Cindy Hale | October 1, 2011

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Adding trot poles (often called placement poles) to your schooling jumps can have a positive effect on your horse’s performance. They can help regulate the pace of a horse that has begun to rush the jumps. They also help a green horse understand just where to place their feet before taking off, alleviating anxiety for both horse and rider. Here’s how to set them up.

Placement Pole

Since these are schooling exercises, practice over low, simple jumps. For example, let’s use a typical crossrail, complete with ground lines on both sides. Now walk off about ten feet (that’d typically be three long walking strides plus one short step) from one side of the crossrail and drop another ground pole there. Go to the other side of the crossrail, walk off ten feet and do the same thing with another ground pole.

If you’re unsure of your footsteps, use a measuring tape to check the distances. Plus, if your horse is particularly long-strided, roll the placement poles out another 6” so he doesn’t feel cramped.

Now approach your exercise at a steady working trot. If you allow your horse to trot quickly on a forward, strung-out stride, he may sense that his steps won’t fit inside the placement poles and stop or run-out. Plus, he needs time to evaluate this intriguing new test. By approaching at a controlled, steady trot he has the chance to figure out the puzzle.

Ideally your horse will simply step over the first placement pole, hop over the crossrail, then incorporate the placement pole on the landing side into his next stride. The overall sensation should be smooth and deliberate. If your horse leaps over the placement poles he’s trying too hard. Or you may be using too much leg to help him jump. Relax and just concentrate on maintaining a consistent pace, length of stride, and getting your horse to the center of the crossrail. The placement pole on the take-off side will set your horse up for the crossrail while the one on the landing side will re-balance him upon landing, so that he doesn’t just land and gallop off.

Once your horse is secure with the crossrail exercise, you can proceed to trotting a low, simple vertical. You can also set placement poles on each side of other small verticals like gates and panels. With practice, your horse will stop rushing and learn to trot jumps in good rhythm. Green horses will gain confidence in their ability, and improve their form. Eventually, you can remove the placement poles and graduate to cantering jumps.

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