How to Use Horse Poles: Step-by-Step Guide

Horse Poles

What are horse poles, you ask? They aren’t literal poles for horses to play with, but rather a type of equestrian training equipment used in dressage. Horse poles are a series of graduated poles placed on the ground in a specific pattern to help riders and their horses improve their balance, coordination, and rhythm.

Whether you are a seasoned dressage competitor or just starting out, horse poles are a valuable tool to include in your training routine. In this article, I’ll break down the different types of horse poles available, how to set them up properly, and share some tips for using them effectively to improve your dressage foundation. So saddle up and let’s get started.

What are Horse Poles?

Horse poles, also known as pole bending, is an equestrian sport that involves horse and rider maneuvering through a series of poles arranged in a straight line. The objective is to complete the course in the fastest time while accurately weaving through the poles. The sport tests the agility, speed, and control of the horse and the rider’s ability to guide the horse through the course. Horse poles are commonly seen in rodeos, gymkhanas, and other Western-style horse-riding events.

How to Use Horse Poles?

  1. Setup:

    • Set up a series of poles in a straight line, evenly spaced apart. The standard spacing is 21 feet between each pole, but it can vary depending on the event or competition rules.
    • The number of poles used can vary, but it typically ranges from 5 to 6 poles.
  2. Mounting and Positioning:

    • Mount your horse and position yourself at the starting line, facing the first pole.
    • Maintain a balanced and secure seat on your horse.
  3. Approach and Timing:

    • As you approach the first pole, establish a good rhythm and pace with your horse.
    • Time your approach so that you have a clear line between each pole for weaving.
  4. Weaving through the Poles:

    • Guide your horse to weave through the poles in a serpentine pattern.
    • Maintain a steady pace and focus on accuracy.
    • Use subtle rein and leg aids to guide your horse around each pole.
  5. Balance and Control:

    • Maintain balance and control throughout the course.
    • Stay centered in the saddle, keeping your weight centered over your horse’s back.
  6. Finish Line:

    • Continue weaving through the poles until you reach the last pole.
    • Once you pass the last pole, maintain control and bring your horse to a controlled stop.
  7. Timing and Scoring:

    • Your time is recorded from the moment you cross the starting line until you cross the finish line.
    • Penalties may be incurred for knocking down or displacing poles, deviating from the course, or other rule violations.

It’s essential to practice and train with your horse to develop the necessary skills for pole bending. Proper training and conditioning of the horse, along with effective communication between horse and rider, are crucial for successful and safe participation in horse pole events.

What is The Purpose Of Trotting Poles?

The purpose of trotting poles, also known as ground poles or cavaletti, is to improve a horse’s balance, coordination, and strength while they are in motion. These poles are set on the ground at specific distances and heights to encourage the horse to engage their muscles and adjust their stride. Trotting poles are commonly used in horse training, riding lessons, and rehabilitation programs. They offer various benefits, including:

  1. Promoting Rhythm and Cadence: Trotting poles help horses establish a consistent rhythm and cadence in their trotting gait. The poles encourage the horse to find its natural stride and develop a balanced and even pace.

  2. Developing Balance and Coordination: As horses navigate over the trotting poles, they need to adjust their foot placement and maintain balance. This improves their proprioception (awareness of body position) and enhances their coordination and agility.

  3. Strengthening Muscles: Trotting over poles requires the horse to engage and activate its core muscles, including the back, abdominals, and hindquarters. Regular use of trotting poles helps build strength in these areas, contributing to overall fitness and performance.

  4. Improving Stride Length and Adjustability: By encouraging the horse to reach forward and lift its legs higher, trotting poles can enhance the horse’s stride length. They also help horses learn to adjust their stride to accommodate different distances between the poles, improving their flexibility and adaptability.

  5. Focus and Engagement: Trotting poles provide mental stimulation for horses, keeping them engaged and focused during training sessions. The concentration required to navigate the poles can help horses become more attentive and responsive to their rider’s cues.

Trotting poles are a versatile training tool that can benefit horses of various disciplines, including dressage, show jumping, eventing, and pleasure riding. When using trotting poles, it’s important to set them at appropriate distances and heights based on the horse’s size, fitness level, and training goals. It’s advisable to seek guidance from an experienced trainer or instructor to ensure proper setup and safe usage of trotting poles.

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How to Use Horse Poles Step-by Step Guide

How to Pace The Poles?

When it comes to properly spacing ground poles for training, there are general guidelines you can follow depending on the horse’s size and gait. For an average 15.2 hands-sized horse, poles should be placed approximately two and a half feet apart for walking, four feet apart for trotting, and nine to eleven feet apart for cantering. Generally speaking, gaited horses should have their poles spaced eight feet apart rather than the standard trotting at four feet apart.

It is recommended that you measure the spacing of each pole from its center point as this will help achieve accuracy. Depending on the size of your particular equine, you may need to add or subtract an inch or more if your horse is a pony or taller than 17 hands.

If you wish to ensure accuracy when setting up your pole row, use rope or tape at the ideal distances to measure out your pattern before placing down the individual poles. This will save time in having to constantly adjust them later once they are set in place and will reassure you that all measurements are equal between each post in your sequential row of ground poles.

Do I need to raise the poles off the ground?

Raising the poles off the ground can be a beneficial practice for more advanced pole work and step conditioning with your horse. This is because it allows you to create different stimuli and proprioceptive gains, as well as strengthen your horse’s power during more challenging trotting and cantering exercises. It also means that it’s easier for horses to stay focused on what they are doing from session to session, meaning their body practices become more consistent over time.

However, for basic pole work and introduction exercises, you do not need to raise the poles in order to get results. It is important firstly that your horse establishes a steady rhythm when crossing the poles before introducing risers or blocks. This helps build their confidence and teaches them how it should feel when moving through the poles correctly. In future posts, I will go into more detail about this concept but for now, just know that it is not essential to use risers from the start of your training journey with your horse but they can be useful once some fundamentals have been established.

How Many And How Long Should Ploes Be?

When it comes to how many poles you should use and how long they should be, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Ultimately, the number of poles you use and their length should depend on the pole dance routine or skill you are aiming for.

For instance, if you are performing a split jump with poles, then four poles might work best, while higher-level tricks may require six to eight poles for your routine to look visually balanced and impressive. Moreover, when purchasing poles, do not assume that you must use jump poles – regular fitness pole setups give performance flexibility to add extra spins and body position much easier than stick poles due to the diameters of each pole style being different.

Generally, quality in pole routines comes from practice and balancing stability and movement across multiple points or areas of focus throughout your performance – which requires ample space and equipment. Therefore, you must develop an understanding of what kind of space works best for your particular goals, as this will help inform how many (and how long) the necessary poles should be for your desired routine. Overall, when considering quality in pole routines, remember that the most important factor is having a clear vision of what type of

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How to Use Horse Poles

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of using trotting poles in horse training?

Trotting poles have multiple purposes in horse training. They help improve a horse’s balance, coordination, strength, and stride length. Additionally, they promote rhythm, cadence, and engagement of the horse’s core muscles.

How far apart should trotting poles be placed?

The spacing between trotting poles depends on the size and stride length of the horse, as well as the training goals. Typically, poles are spaced around 3 to 4 feet apart. However, it is important to start with wider spacing and gradually narrow it as the horse becomes more comfortable and proficient.

Can trotting poles be used for horses of all levels and disciplines?

Yes, trotting poles can be beneficial for horses of all levels and various disciplines. They are commonly used in training dressage horses, show jumpers, eventers, pleasure horses, and even in rehabilitation programs. The exercises can be adjusted based on the specific needs and goals of the horse and rider.

Are trotting poles only used at the trotting gait?

Trotting poles are primarily used at the trotting gait due to their design and intended benefits. However, they can also be utilized at other gaits, such as the walk or canter, with appropriate adjustments in spacing and height. Always ensure that the horse is adequately prepared and trained before introducing trotting poles at different gaits.

Can trotting poles be used for young or inexperienced horses?

Yes, trotting poles can be incorporated into the training of young or inexperienced horses. However, it’s crucial to introduce them gradually and under the guidance of a knowledgeable trainer. Start with wider spacing and lower heights, allowing the horse to develop confidence and coordination before progressing to more challenging exercises. Safety and the horse’s comfort should always be prioritized during training sessions.


Trotting poles are an important tool in horse training, providing numerous benefits and facilitating progress. It is essential to select the appropriate spacing and height for the type of exercise you are doing, taking into account your horse’s size and experience level. With patience and proper guidance, trotting poles can help improve your horse’s balance, coordination, strength, and stride length.

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