The first step before beginning a training program with a “lazy” horse, or one that doesn’t pick up his feet, is to investigate and eliminate any possible physical reason for him to be dragging along. Anything that affects his ability to engage his hindquarters, flex his joints and lift his back can be the root cause of the problem. Foot, leg or shoulder problems, chiropractic or muscular issues, or even impaired vision and poor saddle fit are at the top of the list.

Once any physical issues have been addressed, then it’s time to focus on improving your horse’s posture, flexibility and suppleness, so that he is balanced, lifting his back and easily engaging his hindquarters. Walking and trotting over poles will help your horse improve in all these areas. But it’s important that he is relaxed and encouraged to stretch when he does these exercises. Start slowly with one or two poles set on a flat area and gradually increase the challenge.

Walk-Trot Poles

• Spaced for a single stride between each set of poles. Below are measurements for the average-sized horse’s average stride. Adjust as necessary to suit your horse.
Walk – 0.61 – 0.76 metres (2 – 2.5′) apart
Trot – 1.07 – 1.22 metres (3.5 – 4′) apart
Easy – poles flat on the ground.
Challenging – slightly raise one end of some or all the poles.

Raised Fan

• Gymnastic exercise requiring four 3- or3.66-metre poles (10- or 12-foot poles) and a stable platform (such as a bale of hay or straw, a bag of shavings, old tires).
• Place one end of each pole on the platform at least one metre apart. Fan out the poles so the centres are about one metre apart. The poles should be stable but able to move if your horse does catch them with his hooves.
• Adjust the distance based on your horse’s fitness and ability.
• Walk your horse with soft, light contact on a curved path over the lower end of the poles. Encourage a low head carriage and true bend (i.e. left bend for left rein).
• Complete the exercise no more than three times on each rein.
• Rest or do a different exercise before repeating.

In this first option of Pick-Up Sticks, four or five poles are placed randomly on the ground and the horse is encouraged to “pick” his way through on a loose lead. Be careful where you place your own feet! (Anne Gage photo)


Pick-Up Sticks – Option 1

• Randomly place four or five poles on the ground, creating a puzzle of varying spaces and raised poles. Ensure the poles are stable to prevent them from rolling.
• With a loose lead, encourage your horse to lower his head. Walk him across the puzzle of poles, allowing him to pick his own way through.

Pick-Up Sticks – Option 2

• Scatter several poles around the arena randomly at all different angles and distances to each other.
• Lead your horse over the poles in different patterns – loops, zigzags and curves. Approach from different angles – straight across and obliquely.
• Complete two- to three-minute circuits, constantly changing the order and pattern.
• Rest briefly after each circuit before repeating.