In this excerpt from her book Training and Riding with Cones and Poles, trainer Sigrid Schöpe teaches us how voltes over zigzag poles can improve the use of your horse’s inside hind leg.
Voltes are perfectly round small circles—at least in theory. Every honest rider admits it is not so easy to ride a volte that is even all the way around. Practicing voltes can get boring for you and your horse, and it can help to use zigzag poles to keep sessions interesting. Voltes with zigzag poles are fun, have high gymnastic value, and activate the horse’s inside hind leg—that is, if you do the exercise correctly from the beginning.
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE
On the side of the zigzag poles with two “points” where poles touch, select one of the “points,” and ride the horse in a large volte around the point. Then ride straight over the two angled poles in the middle, followed by another volte around the second “point.”
Both voltes should be the same size and maintain the “point” where two poles meet as the center.
Ride the exercise with a change of direction so you practice voltes both to the right and the left. This ensures your horse is gymnasticized on both sides.
Experiment with the size of the angles in your zigzag to best enable your horse to circle evenly with consistent bend.
HOW TO DO IT
Try this first from the ground, paying as much attention to the distances between obstacles and the size of your volte as you do from the saddle. This is often forgotten when doing groundwork! Walk the pattern of both voltes along with your horse. Then, stand at one of the “points” and ask your horse to walk around you in a small or large volte, as if longeing him. Switch to the other “point,” and send your horse out onto another volte around you.
When riding, be precise with your aids. Weight, leg, and rein aids must be given at the right time and in the right combination. Just as when you are riding voltes without the addition of ground poles, position your horse for the bending line with the inside rein (inside the bend). This “positioning” is a very small movement at the horse’s poll. The outside rein softens a little to allow the flexion.
Your horse should bend evenly all the way around the volte, without his haunches or shoulders falling out or in. It can help to remind your horse to stay straight by giving him a tap on his inside shoulder with the whip.
Don’t hold the reins too tightly or your horse will only bend in his neck, rather than longitudinally through his body. The bend must be through the whole horse. Bend him around your inside leg, which lies softly against his belly. Your outside leg supports him. Your body should stay straight in the saddle.
When working with ground poles, it is important to give your horse enough freedom of his head so he can see the poles. Keep in mind that horses have a different field of sight than we do.
Don’t “lock” your hands, which can happen when you are riding multiple voltes in a series. Maintain a soft, feeling connection with your horse’s mouth. The exercise should feel smooth and fluid.