In recent years there has been an increase in popularity in pole work clinics. People are taking inspiration from the likes of Ingrid Klimke and learning more about how beneficial and fun pole work can be. Becky has been running clinics in Essex for several years, they are hugely popular and she is on a mission to help riders achieve their goals with horses through her sports therapy.
Becky, tell me a little more about yourself and your current work with horses?
I qualified from Writtle university with a BSc Honours degree in equine sports therapy. Adjacent to that I also have my BHS 1 and 2 as well as equinology massage qualification, kinesiology taping and I’m fully trained in low-level laser therapy which can be used on horses, humans and all other animals.
My role would mainly come under the term 'sports therapist'. This would consist of massage, passive stretching, low-level laser therapy, kinesiology taping, rehabilitation homework and programmes depending on the issues with the horse. I also assume the role of rehabilitation trainer, which consists of pole work lesson (either ridden or in-hand) and pole work clinics I run in and around Essex.
The lessons I do come from my sports therapy background; so focusing on how the horse is moving, how their muscles of being used, are they using their posture correctly is there anything the rider can do to engage them more through the poles.
How long have you been working with horses?
I have been around horses my whole life, I had my first pony when I was born, Basil a grey Shetland who I started riding around 9 months old, yes I could ride before I could walk. I then carried on riding throughout my early years at various riding schools, spending all weekend helping to earn that free lesson. I also competed a lot when I was younger, showjumping under the BSJA and also being part of the junior academy in Essex.
What inspired you to start running pole work clinics?
I love watching the way horses move, it fascinates me. When you give them an obstacle, watching their behaviour and body language change trying to understand how to use themselves more productively and watching their brain tick over and understand the challenge it’s amazing what they can do. I felt like this was a big area within the equine industry that was being ignored, I have never heard of pole work clinics before I started doing them and I felt like every discipline could benefit from then.
How do you manage horses who find the poles a bit daunting or get a bit overexcited?
I have so many people come to me that are extremely anxious, they have never done anything like this before and all their horses just want jump and do not understand what pole work is – I have to say these are my favourite to work with! The best tip I can give is to take it slow, it’s not a race you have to teach the horse that poles mean more than just jump and they do need to learn to use their bodies in a more effective way. I would always start off in-hand either having the horse in a bridle or lunge cavesson depending on what the horse is like in hand. Just start with 2 or 3 poles and walk over them (poles on the floor to start with and once confident after a few sessions you can raise them). It also helps to ask the horse to stand in the middle of the poles and let them touch the poles move their head and neck around so they start to think about their posture and understand what is being asked of them.
When you start the ridden work I would also strongly advise you to start in walk, this then dis-encourages the horse to just run through the exercise. You need to ensure the horse has a good active walk and is engaging their hind end. Once you are confident and have done a few sessions you can begin to add trot in over various exercises and then begin to raise the poles (this can be done over a few weeks). Once the poles are raised if the horse starts to get faster and you feel like you’re losing control of the situation come back to walk, I like to call this the naughty step (many of my clients have heard this before) you always come back to walk or halt to give the horse a minute to think and then re-approach the situation again. Once you have done this a few times the horse should start to understand the exercise and listen to the rider.
How often would you recommend incorporating pole work into your exercise routine?
The more times you can do poles the better however once or twice a week either in-hand, on the lunge or ridden would be a brilliant addition to your exercise programme. This doesn’t have to be on a big scale like I do at my clinics, just a few poles incorporated into the programme is great.
What are your favourite pole combinations and why?
Oooo this is a hard question as there are so many designs that I do, however, I think a simple figure of eight set up would have to be my go to exercise as this can be done with as many or little poles as possible. It can also include many different transitions between the poles to help with rhythm and engagement. In the picture below is a mega figure of eight, however you can do it at home with just the four corners and only have two poles on each corner if you are limit to a small number of poles, if you want to go bigger you can copy my layout in this picture.
I also regularly experiment with setups at different yards and centres. Please don’t be put off by the number of poles; you can still work with very few poles. I always like to ask people when I am teaching 1-1 what level they are currently working on and if there is anything that are training to achieve or better at the moment so that I can tailor exercises or ways to help with this. Anything is possible with poles but the main point I keep pestering about is taking it slow and starting right from the bottom with walk and building up in stages.
The key things to think about with poles would be; Rhythm, Tempo, engagement and suppleness.
Do you still have your own horses?
I recently took a 4-year gap from owning horses after my last boy was put to sleep at the grand age of 32, however, since he died I have always had my eye on a spotty boy and this year I found him. I now own a Kanppstrupper colt who should make around 16.1 and excel in any discipline however his dad was an FEI showjumper, he is full black leopard colour. I am having the best time with him and learning so much, I hope to try a bit of everything with him and take life at his pace and see where the future takes us.
We hope you enjoyed the insights from Becky, and keep your eyes peeled for more blog posts coming from her in the near future x