Youngster Exercise Series – The Circle Challenge

Here’s another exercise that is a bit more challenging but excellent for a young horse to take on. I did this one with Cosmo before we went into complete lockdown in March. It was tough but very rewarding when we got it right.


WHAT IS THIS EXERCISE GOOD FOR?

  • Building topline
  • Encouraging self-carriage
  • Making your horse more sure-footed
  • Improving balance

HOW TO SET IT UP

For this exercise you’re going to want a large amount of space. I set mine up in the middle of the arena but it could be set-up at either end of the arena too.

For the Trot Poles:

  • Two sets of 3 x raised trot poles – 5 footsteps between each pole
  • Each set should be placed at opposite sides of a 10m circle

For the Canter Poles:

  • 4 x poles
  • Placed on a 20m circle at 3 – 6 – 9 – 12 as if on a clock face

You should place your canter poles around the outside of your trot poles.

HOW TO RIDE IT

Riding the Trot Poles:

To ride the trot poles you want to make sure you have a nice forward trot with a good even contact on the reins to help balance your horse.

  • Start by riding a circle around the outside of the trot poles, encouraging your horse to bend its body around your leg
  • Once you establish a nice even rhythm, ride your horse into the first set of trot poles, making sure to keep the bend over the poles. You may find that your horse will struggle the first few times over the poles but if you can maintain consistency in your rhythm and contact, they’ll get there themselves.
  • After doing the first set of poles on each rein a few times, its time to complete the circle and include your second set of poles. You may find the circle a bit tight initially but again, once you maintain a consistent rhythm, your horse should flow through both sets of poles.
  • This is quite a tough enough exercise for a young horse who is still developing their topline so be sure to give your horse plenty of breaks when doing this exercise.

For the Canter Poles:

The canter element of this exercise is much more simple but equally as challenging especially if you have a horse who struggles to hold themselves together in the canter.

  • Similar to the trot poles, start by riding a larger circle around the outside of the canter poles to help establish a rhythm. You want to settle your horse into a nice forward canter with a slight bend through their body.
  • Once you’re ready, start over your first pole focusing on maintaining your rhythm and keeping your horse up in your hands to encourage them off the forehand as you ride the full circle of poles.
  • Do this on both reins while making sure to give your horse plenty of breaks.

Check out a quick video of Cosmo giving this Circle Challenge a go!


I definitely found the trot pole element of this layout way more difficult than the canter poles but I felt both myself and Cosmo settled into it in the end and we got some really lovely results. Our biggest problem with canter work is that Cosmo tends to lean on the forehand quite a bit so I sometimes have a hard time keeping him up and light in my hands. I definitely felt an improvement by the time we finished up with this exercise though.

Thanks for reading,

ORLA