Trotting Over Poles Can Have Exercise, Therapeutic Benefits

Researchers found that trotting over poles appears to help increase joints’ range of motion, and could be especially beneficial for horses that are recuperating from lameness.
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Since horses weren’t pushing their bodies higher in the air to clear poles, the vertical force between the hoof and the ground did not increase, indicating that there was no increase in weight-bearing when horses trotted over poles—a point that might have been considered problematic for horses overcoming some injuries. | Photo: Arnd Bronkhorst/www.arnd.nl
Horse owners might spend hours improving their horses’ gaits with training exercises, but there is still much that we don’t know about the finer points of a horse’s gait. That knowledge gap has made it difficult to analyze the effectiveness of certain exercises that are a common part of many riders’ routines.

Michigan State University researchers recently conducted a pair of studies to analyze and compare the way a horse’s legs and joints move during the “swing” phase (when the leg is carried forward through the air) and the “stance” phase (when the hoof is grounded and the leg is bearing weight), both over level ground and over poles.

Study author Hilary Clayton, BVMS, PhD, Dipl. ACVSMR, MRCVS, said many trainers use work with ground poles to improve horses’ technical skills, while veterinarians and therapists use poles to rehabilitate horses from injury or neurologic conditions.

“Therapists use hoof-eye coordination exercises to rehabilitate horses after neurological diseases,” said Clayton. “These include walking and trotting over, around, or between poles or other obstacles. The challenge for the horse is to see the objects, plan where to put his feet, then use neuromotor control to place the feet correctly

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Natalie Voss is a freelance writer and editor based in Kentucky. She received her bachelor’s degree in equine science from the University of Kentucky and has worked in public relations for equine businesses and organizations. She spends her spare time riding her Draft cross, Jitterbug.

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