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My horse is too clever and athletic for his own good, or: Help me fix his trot poles.

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  • My horse is too clever and athletic for his own good, or: Help me fix his trot poles.

    My guy is at the tail end of his "getting-back-up-to-speed" process after coming off of an injury last summer. I am currently working on strengthening his hind end, with the understanding that he is due for his hock injections (scheduled in 2 weeks.) He has been doing series of trot poles and today I started to raise them.

    I set up a grid of 5 trot poles, with elements 2 and 4 raised 6" off the ground. Like this:
    To the left, he was fantastic! To the right, the first time he trotted through nicely, and then the second time, he got clever. He trotted the pole, then bounced the rest, using elements 2 and 3, and 4 and 5, as little oxers.

    So, next time, I half-halted before the grid and between each element. He bounced it anyway. I then trotted plain trot poles (|..|..|) to the right to re-emphasize my point, and then went back to the grid with stronger half-halts and voice. He bounced it again. So I trotted the grid the other direction (where he did it properly,) then walked him through the grid and halted over element 3, then walked out. The next time through I gave a very strong half-halt and voice, and he bounced. By this time we had attracted an audience, who was both laughing hysterically and admiring his athleticism. (To wit: "Wow, he made that so much harder than it had to be!" and "He is so smart!")

    I didn't think I was going to be able to fix this today, so I trotted the grid back to the left (fine,) then lowered it to a series of 5 poles on the ground and trotted it back to the right (fine,) then quit on a good note.

    While theoretically he's still working his hind end by creating a grid of rail-oxer-oxer, I would prefer he do things the "right way." Between the progressively stronger half halts, the voice, the walking through and halting in the middle, and reinforcing "the right way" by trotting the poles on the ground and trotting the grid the opposite direction, I tried everything I could think of to make my intentions clear. But Tip was pretty enamored of his new good trick. Any suggestions for next time?
    "I'm not always sarcastic. Sometimes I'm asleep." - Harry Dresden

    Amy's Stuff - Rustic chic and country linens and decor
    Support my mom! She's gotta finance her retirement horse somehow.

  • #2
    Could you try making them closer together so he can't do the bounce as much? Or lengthen them? If they're spaced further he'll have to stretch more rather than collecting up. Not sure what your specific rehab goals are besides general strength so either may be more suitable for what he needs to do. I would say he's probably doing it in a bounce because it's easier than trying to reach forward for it in the trot but that's just a guess.


    • #3
      I would not tend to think of this as a clever trick or a demonstration of athleticism. My bet is that there is an issue that makes it easier one direction than the other. You mention that he is due for hock injections - it may be that one hock is more sore than the other hock.

      If he had done this both directions I'd be more inclined to think "silly athletic horse" but from your description, I think it's an evasion to something feeling harder that direction, and since it persisted through your methodical process, I would guess it's physical.

      Raised trot poles are pretty difficult for horses, more difficult than most think. Personally, if he is needing hock injections imminently, I would lay off of the more difficult exercises such as the raised poles until he is 100%. Otherwise, the stress of compensating through a strenuous exercise can cause additional soreness in other places. Take the time to get him stretching and keep him loose and save the strength-building for when he isn't sore and compensating.

      Just went through this with one of my horses. My advice - stick to the simple stuff, get him back to 100%, and then proceed with the harder exercises.

      If he has a harder side, make the exercise easier that direction while he builds up the strength. If you reintroduce this exercise in the future and still has this issue, I think it's strange to be one sided, and would be looking for a root cause. It may be that he is just that much weaker on that side, and needs more time to develop those muscles.

      Good luck! These horses can be very tricky!

      ETA - he may need the distance between the poles adjusted to what is easier for him. He should be landing directly in the middle of the poles. If he lands shallow, they may be too long for his stride length (but again - this could be because of the hocks since it's one sided) and that could be why he is bouncing them. If so, adjust to what's comfortable and then as he builds strength, move them out a little at a time.
      It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. (Aristotle)


      • Original Poster

        Regarding the distance- I want him to get him a little more longitudinally agile on the flat before asking him to lengthen or shorten between poles. Right now I set rails at a comfortable distance where he lands equidistant between elements, whether tracking right or tracking left. (Length of stride is the same both directions.) I check this over each pass through an exercise in each direction; left or right, when he was trotting instead of bouncing, he was landing in his own hoofprints about equidistant between the rails. I was actually impressed at how neatly he was keeping to his same track today (on the back side of the grid, too, where he has a tendency to drift to the outside rail, he held himself up and straight. Atta boy!)

        Mac, I agree that his hocks and his hind end development in general are certainly big components to why he's preferring to bounce, and almost definitely the first time he bounced the thing, it was entirely to avoid pushing off with the one leg behind. He is clever, and in his mind, he's now made the exercise a) easier and b) more fun. (Trust me on that last part- it's in his personality.) Easier and more fun is definitely a "good trick" and now he has two reasons to avoid doing it the right way rather than just one. I did note that he led into the grid with both sides and also landed on both leads coming out of it when he was bouncing himself around- I would expect that if he were doing it exclusively for avoidance reasons, he would either show a preference for landing lead, or he would be more likely to bounce when he needed to push off into the grid off of the stickier hock. So, long story short, while the hind end development is definitely one of the reasons why, I don't think it's the only reason (and it's a bit of a catch 22- to develop his hind end, he's going to need to trot the poles.)

        His hocks aren't bothering him enough for the injections to be of immediate concern- I actually had to sort of talk the vet into doing them, but while subtle, there is a slight difference in his impulsion behind from his left leg to his right leg. So yes, he needs them (in my opinion,) but in vet's opinion, he doesn't need them badly enough that it should be curtailing his activity in any way. He has been walking and trotting hills once or twice a week for the last few months, and has just "graduated" to grids of more than 3 rails about 3 weeks ago.

        The next time he does pole gymnastics- probably next week- I'm going to orient elsewhere in the ring. The ring does have a slope to it, and although I thought we were off the slope, it could be that his legs felt differently (which could account for his preference to come off the left turn as opposed to the right.) We mostly did the grid off of the right turn in one direction through the grid, and although we also did the grid off the left turn in the same direction, who knows...
        Last edited by Renn/aissance; Apr. 25, 2013, 02:12 PM.
        "I'm not always sarcastic. Sometimes I'm asleep." - Harry Dresden

        Amy's Stuff - Rustic chic and country linens and decor
        Support my mom! She's gotta finance her retirement horse somehow.


        • #5
          Are your poles equidistant?
          coming "off" the raised pole, the next pole should be slightly closer than the distance between 2 flat poles or between the first flat & the raised pole ... depending on the horse, sensitivity to this varies, also whether the horse will decide to adjust, hit a pole or jump.


          • #6
            Also, did you try "upping" your rhythm and getting more umph through them rather than trying to half halt and whoa (which is what I assume when you say you used your voice). If he's not stretching he may need some impulsion and push to get through them going that way.


            • #7
              You could try increasing the distance between poles to 9 feet.

              I'd keep them on the ground for now, let him get used to the idea of trotting over the wide spaced poles for several rides, then switch back to 4.5 feet and see if he figures it out.


              • #8
                Couple of thoughts here.

                First, his hocks might be bothering him and you wouldn't see anything obvious-I'd wait to do the grid stuff. That stuff is harder on them then you think.

                Second, what are you doing after your half halts? Do you drop him or keep him between rein and hand? While we want to leave them alone in a gymnastic and let them figure out where to put their feet, ground poles and itty bitty cross rails or jumps(anything under 2'6") don't give them a jump and are correctly ridden without any release or change in seat.

                Rather then a big change with a half halt, stay the same with seat and hand to help him through simple trot over exercises. And don't be afraid to have a ground person add, remove and change the distances every time thru to keep it fresh and interesting, avoid over and over s.o.s.

                Finally, IMO, mastering extension and collection does not have to wait for laterals to be polished and, again IMO, they are harder for any horse to master mentally and physically then controlling stride and "frame" (for want of a better word)..and you need to control that to help him over a ground pole or tiny jump grid.
                When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

                The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


                • Original Poster

                  Thanks for all the suggestions!

                  I rode a normal working trot posting through the grid and after a single half-halt wasn't a significant inhibitor, I kept more contact than I normally would (he is loath to stretch into contact- at this point in his life this is just part of him- so a very light hand suits him best when he is being asked to pick up his feet over something.) He maintained his impulsion throughout- I was actually quite impressed with the quality of trot I got, particularly to the left, which has been his bad side.

                  I'd love to have a ground person, but I don't really have that luxury at this point, so I did a lot of jumping off, changing a rail, jumping back on... Tip clearly thought I was crazy.

                  I misspoke earlier and meant to say that I wanted to improve his longitudinal agility on the flat before asking him to do so over poles- he has always carried tension in his spine and the lift and stretch that comes with lengthening or collection of stride is difficult for him. The poles we have are PVC and easily knocked around, so if he clonks into one with his front feet, it's moving, and posing a problem for the hind feet! So I want a more consistently good stretch through the back and more consistent motion in the shoulder before I complicate the exercise. That consistency is improving.

                  He won't be doing any more grids until next week, at least; depending on how he feels next time he's actually ridden (yesterday was a scheduled "off" day, which meant a short stretchy walk, and today was a long exercise walk with some lateral work thrown in,) it could be until after his hocks are done. It could certainly be that this was more strain on his joints than I anticipated; he'll tell me.
                  "I'm not always sarcastic. Sometimes I'm asleep." - Harry Dresden

                  Amy's Stuff - Rustic chic and country linens and decor
                  Support my mom! She's gotta finance her retirement horse somehow.


                  • #10
                    When he goes back to work, if he blows thru a half halt? Sit your trot over those poles and just lighten your seat a little and close your hip and inch or two over those real low crossrails or tiny verticals.

                    Like GM has harped on for decades, jumps are in the way of flatwork so just do your flatwork over the poles and tiny stuff like they are not there at all. Thats how they get broke (not to be confused with broken) between the fences and really rideable when faced with actual jumps later on.
                    When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

                    The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.