Patterns for the Weekend: Four Poles, Seven Exercises

If you have little to no equipment, here are seven patterns for you!

These patterns are oldies but goodies. They come from e-Venting, a UK-based website that focuses on news, training tips, product reviews, and blogs that are related to eventing. These seven patterns are great exercises for those who don’t have a ton of equipment and are riding on their own.

These exercises can yield a few 40 minute schooling sessions and offer something for just about any horse. All you need is four poles — set them up in a 20m circle at 12 o’clock, 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock and 9 o’clock (feel free to adjust the diameter of the circle according to your horse’s training level). Then mount up.

Exercise 1:

Photo courtesy of e-Venting

Ride a circle round the outside of the poles. This can be done at a walk, trot and canter and on both reins. The goal is to have consistent curve through the horse’s body without using too much inside rein. More advanced horses can also ride a circle round the inside of the poles.

Exercise 2:

Photo courtesy of e-Venting

Ride the circle round the outside of the poles, but every time you pass a pole make a small circle round it. The circles can start large and then decrease in diameter as your horse warms up. Work for a consistent bend throughout the body, keep the shoulders from falling out in the smaller circles, and avoid overuse of the inside rein. For most horses, this can be ridden in a walk and trot — more advanced horses can canter.

Exercise 3:

Photo courtesy of e-Venting

Ride a clover-leaf pattern in between the poles, concentrating on keeping the horse absolutely straight on the straight sections then allowing correct bend throughout the turns. Try to make sure the three-quarter circles in each corner are the same size and that you maintain control of the horse’s hind end when returning onto the straight line. This one is difficult to ride correctly and isn’t suitable for cantering! Complete the pattern in both directions.

Exercise 4:

Photo courtesy of e-Venting

This pattern is a figure 8  and requires a change of leg – ride this at the canter canter, making the loops at either end the same size. Depending on level of training of your horse, change legs in the center either through trot, walk (simple change) or make a flying change. Try to make your change (whichever sort you choose to do) exactly over the center and keep the horse straight in its body through the change – work to avoid swinging the horse’s head and neck to the opposite side to make sure it gets the lead change! Again, repeat on both reins.

Exercise 5:

Photo courtesy of e-Venting

This exercise requires a bit more space, but is great to start flying lead changes and can be used to teach horses to change legs across the center of the school. As the horse takes off over the pole, push your new inside leg forward, new outside leg back, flex its head and neck slightly to the new direction and look in the direction you wish to go. The horse should use the pole to make a nice change and land on the new leading leg. This is only suitable for more advanced horses who are adjustable in the canter.

Exercise 6:

Photo courtesy of e-Venting

Ride a large oval (with rounded half-circle ends, not pointy ones like in the diagram!) incorporating two of the poles. This can be ridden this at the walk, trot or canter and on both reins. Make sure you stay straight before and after the poles and ride smoothly round the corners without letting the shoulders fall out.

Exercise 7:

Photo courtesy of e-Venting

Ride the circle incorporating all of the poles — doing this well is fairly difficult. As with the other exercises, you need to be constantly aware of the shoulders and quarters falling in and out, and you’ll find that the poles come up very quickly. There generally are three or four canter strides between poles depending on the size of horse and size of circle. Try to hit each pole exactly in the center and get the same number of strides around each quarter of the circle. Counting out loud can be helpful!

We look forward to offering more exercises to help you and your horse improve. Have a pattern you’re dying to share? Feel free to send it our way. Email the pattern with a diagram to [email protected]. Be sure to put “Patterns for the Weekend” in the subject heading.