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The Science of Pole Exercises

Pole exercises are a fun addition to training sessions and are often used as a precursor to jump training

There is a growing trend for the use of innovative pole exercises as part of training, rehabilitation and therapeutic exercises

But what do pole exercises actually achieve?

Here we take a look at a sample of some of the scientific evidence behind the use of raised poles exercises

Exercises promoting joint Range of Motion (RoM) are useful in preventing soft tissue adaptive shortening which aids in reducing the risk of injury during prehabilitation training for the horse. Improved RoM is linked to restoring movement quality and reducing pain as part of a rehabilitation programme

Poles have been shown to be beneficial in increasing joint flexion and improving stride length which have also be linked to improving the performance of the horse

In order for a horse to move over a pole, they require a process of stride adaptation compared to walking on a flat surface in order to clear the pole without interference. This stride adaptation is a form of active RoM exercise

Poles do not have a habitual conditioning response which can happen with other RoM techniques (weighted boots, pastern rings). Horses will increase RoM over the poles even after multiple sessions. The evidence (scientific and anecdotal) suggests that RoM and technique improves with subsequent sessions whereas some other RoM techniques undergo habitual conditioning and the initial effect wears off - the horse gets used to wearing the boots and no longer adapts their stride

Poles are often recommended as part of rehabilitation programmes as they reduced the risk of overload injury to the musculoskeletal system compared to a more intense form of exercise such as interval training. Raised poles do not increase peak vertical ground reaction force or extend the metatarsophalangeal (Hock) or metacarpophalangeal (Knee) joints compared to walking on the flat. The distal segment (Knee down) of the forelimb went through the most change during the swing phase of a stride

Peak heights of both fore and hind hooves increase significantly as pole height is raised. Interestingly the most difference in peak height is between flat poles and 20cm raised poles. Further increases in height does not necessarily have a linear increase in hoof height.

So What?

Incorporating raised poles into your training and fitness regime can improve RoM particularly in the joints from the knee/hock down

Pole exercises can be a low intensity form of exercise suitable for rehabilitation, particularly in cases of adaptive shortening or declined movement quality

Poles do not need to be high to make a difference - just raising the pole from flat to 20cm has a significant difference in peak height

Do you include pole exercises as part of your regime?


Brown, S., Stubbs, N.C., Kaiser, L.J., Lavagnino, M. and Clayton, H.M., (2015). Swing phase kinematics of horses trotting over poles. Equine veterinary journal, 47(1), pp.107-112

de Oliveira, K., Soutello, R.V., da Fonseca, R., Costa, C., Paulo, R.D.L., Fachiolli, D.F. and Clayton, H.M., (2015). Gymnastic training and dynamic mobilization exercises improve stride quality and increase epaxial muscle size in therapy horses. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 35(11-12), pp.888-893.

McGuigan, M.P. and Wilson, A.M., (2003). The effect of gait and digital flexor muscle activation on limb compliance in the forelimb of the horse Equus caballus. Journal of Experimental Biology, 206(8), pp.1325-1336.

Back, W., Schamhardt, H.C., Savelberg, H.H.C.M., Van Den Bogert, A.J., Bruin, G., Hartman, W. and Barneveld, A., (1995). How the horse moves: 2. Significance of graphical representations of equine hind limb kinematics. Equine Veterinary Journal, 27(1), pp.39-45.

Back, W., Schamhardt, H.C., Savelberg, H.H.C.M., Van Den Bogert, A.J., Bruin, G., Hartman, W. and Barneveld, A., (1995). How the horse moves: 1. Significance of graphical representations of equine forelimb kinematics. Equine Veterinary Journal, 27(1), pp.31-38.

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