In this excerpt from her book Training and Retraining Horses the Tellington Way, renowned horsewoman Linda Tellington-Jones gives us simple exercises to try using ground poles to improve connection, communication and cooperation with our horses.
The Zebra is a simple element that gives horses and handlers (or riders) a clear parameter between two sets of poles. The gentle changes of direction help horses learn how to subtly shift their weight and offer a change of bend.
Six to eight 10- to 12-foot poles are ideal, set up in a zigzag “chute.”
How to Use It
The Zebra can be used in virtually any leading position, while ground driving or riding. It can be used to create some parameters and distance with your horse, or to simply give him the experience of gently turning left and right while maintaining forward motion.
Practicing the Fan is a way to help improve hoof-eye coordination and the horse’s ability to judge distances. The arcing nature of this Element helps to create a clear bend through the horse’s body, which allows for more articulation through the hocks and encourages a dynamic shift of weight. Horses that are stiff through the body, heavy on the forehand, or have a tendency to trip will benefit from mastering the Fan.
Four or five 12-foot heavy poles and something solid one end of each pole can rest on, such as one or two tires or a bale of straw.
How to Use It
Choose a leading position where you are a little bit farther away from the horse. This allows your horse enough room to see the poles and find his balance. Initially plan to halt before the first pole so you can regroup and help your horse go forward in a calm, relaxed manner.
Keep the exercise simple in the beginning and walk over the low end of the poles. Then take the horse through the center of the poles, watching two poles ahead of the horse to be sure he has enough room, and that he can see the poles and judge the height. Lead the horse from both sides. When you are leading on the side that puts you on the high end, it is safest to walk around the outside rather than over the poles.
If your horse has a hard time navigating the poles, experiment with different heights and distances to make it easier until he finds his coordination.
Pick-Up Sticks improves sure-footedness and coordination. The horse learns to lower his head to better judge where to place his feet instead of rushing over an unfamiliar obstacle. Young horses gain confidence and those who are being retrained learn to concentrate and develop a positive attitude toward new challenges.
You will need four to six poles. Square poles are ideal but can be hard to come by; two-by-fours can be substituted. Crisscross them at random on the ground in a single pile.
How to Use It
Pick-Up Sticks helps horses become more aware of their feet while encouraging focus and coordination. This is a great exercise to incorporate for the horse that is not careful on the trail, or the horse that tends to rush and trip, and for where footing is uneven. Ensure the horse moves slowly and is concentrating as you navigate around and over the Pick-Up Sticks from various directions.
The Double Triangle is a wonderful element for teaching the Leading Exercises with more space between horse and handler (p. 185) and when Ground Driving (p. 209). The configuration of poles allows for bending lines and provides clear spatial boundaries. It is also a great element to use under saddle for clear and fun changes of direction and transitions.
You will need six poles. If possible, three pairs of different colors are best. Set them up with one smaller triangle surrounded by another larger, open-sided triangle.
How to Use It
The Double Triangle can be used simply as poles to walk over, but having the horse walk around the outer triangle while the handler stays on the inside helps clarify the exercise and teaches the horse how to stay at a distance. As he understands the signals, you can change the size of the triangular space, spiraling in and out as you like.
When ground driving and riding, the poles can be used in a clover-leaf pattern to encourage bending and turning.
The Double Triangle is fun to use in riding lessons and can even be set up as small jumps or cavalletti as skills increase.
Adapted from Training and Retraining Horses the Tellington Way by Linda Tellington-Jones and reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com).
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