Recent studies have found that walking your horse over ground or raised poles strengthens muscles, increases range of motion in all 4 limbs and increases back flexion.
Walk poles cause the horse to take higher, more exaggerated steps to clear either a ground or raised pole. That extra movement helps improve suppleness and flexibility through the shoulder, elbow, hip, stifle, hock and spine.
Walk poles also strengthen the muscles and structures involved in hip flexion and pelvic and core stability, thoracic engagement and shoulder strength.
Practiced with quality and consistency walk poles can improve your horse’s posture, strength, core stability, topline flexion, balance, straightness, self-awareness and footwork.
Walk is a foundational gait and is of utmost importance when establishing base fitness and biomechanics. Walk poles can be used to educate, enrich, strengthen and change movement patterns the horse without adding adding extra stress or concussion to legs.
Walk poles are a low-concussion exercise that can be done in-hand and/or under saddle.
Walk poles help improve the rhythm and regularity of the footfalls, especially useful when developing an irregular or lateral walk or correcting jigging or focus issues.
Start your horse over poles in hand. It will help them gain comfort with the exercise, practice their mechanics and gain strength before adding a rider.
Encourage your horse to lower his head to look at the pole(s). This will also encourage your horse to round its back and lengthen the topline.
Less is more. Start slowly with one simple pole 5-10x a few times a week and gradually increase the challenge through height, number of poles, pattern or related sets of poles as your horse gains strength, coordination and confidence.
Teach your horse to walk straight across the center of the pole and create a good habit right from the start.
When first introducing multiple poles set them at unrelated distances fairly far apart until the horse gains confidence and fitness.
To walk several poles in a set, try starting with 3 poles set 2.5-3’ (0.7-1.0) meters apart and adjust the distance between the poles to suit your horse best – too far apart and the horse will have to stretch and extend too far, too short and your horse may have difficulty navigating them.
If the exercise is too difficult or high for your horse, its mechanics will suffer. Simple and correct will be far more beneficial.
If you raise the poles, you may need to shorten the distance between them from ground height to allow for the change in the arc of the legs.
I prefer to use poles that won’t move too easily if knocked. That could be because they are heavy or because they have a flat bottom to stabilize them. I like to use poles that are 10-12’ long to start – shorter poles are more challenging to straightness and steering. Please make sure your poles don’t have sharp edges that might cut or bruise your horse.
Once your horse is confident walking poles in-hand you can begin to introduce poles under saddle.
Asking your horse to walk over ground or raised poles as part of a consistent exercise program can help increase range of motion, improve posture and straightness, strengthen musculature and improve balance and coordination.
*There are contraindications for every exercise. Please consult your Vet before introducing walk poles to your horse…and while your at it ask – your Vet if massage could benefit your horse.
*Equine Massage can also be extremely helpful when bringing a horse into work, altering mechanics or improving strength, range of motion and overall posture.
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Additional Reading: How walk work over poles benefits equine rehab and strength