Book Review: 200+ School Exercises With Poles

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Who knew there were so many ways to trot around poles?

Claire Lilley’s book, 200+ School Exercises With Poles (JA Allen, 2012) ensures you’ll never be bored again in the ring, whether you jump or just do dressage.

While it’s a bit of a dry read from cover to cover, I found it easy to flip through and pick out a few exercises to try, all of which require four poles or less, making them easy for nearly anyone to try.

Poles can be used for everything from teaching a young horse to be straight on the centerline to giving the rider a visual “longside” on the diagonal when learning half pass. You don’t have to actually trot over them to benefit.

There are 30 pole layouts in the book using between one and four poles, and each layout has about five exercises each.

Each exercise gets its’ own page and Lilley explains how to lay the poles out by distance (which is in meters, unfortunately for us U.S. readers) in a standard sized dressage ring. There are illustrations using different colored lines with arrows to follow for particular movements or gaits and Lilley describes each exercise in detail with bullet points for more ways to ride each one.

She also includes bullet points on common rider faults to watch out for during the exercise and “Teacher’s Tips” that focus on the finer points of rider position and can be useful in any situation, not just for the particular exercise they’re included with.

On alternating pages, there are some cute inspirational quotes like, “The horse must respond to and respect the rider” and “You’re sitting on the greatest teacher in the world: learn from your horse”.

I think the biggest thing missing from the book are more exercises actually trotting or cantering over consecutive poles. There are a few that include four trot poles at about 4 1/2′ apart to go over, but for the most part, the exercises require you to trot around or between poles, focusing on your flatwork.

I think this book would most benefit dressage riders who might want to spice up their routine, but I think it can definitely benefit eventers too, especially those of us stuck in the indoor all winter!

The book is available and for $45.00, but it can be found for cheaper on Amazon.

Homework and basics–keeping things interesting in the winter

As Oh So has come back into jumping after his hip injury, Lisa and I have come up with some small exercises that still challenge him without stressing him too much or too soon.

A couple of weeks ago, she set up three small verticals that he could basically canter over at three strides apart on the short side of the ring we went to. She also had a jump on the short side, so we made a circle of three jumps at three strides, then about 5 or 6 strides, over the jump, then 5 or 6 strides back to the short side. It was meant to make jumping seem “blah” for him and to work on his canter stride and my position.

I’ve recreated that in my ring on a smaller scale these past few weeks. I’ve made them small cavaletti with one stride in between so I can just canter him over them (see first two clips in the video above where he is actually relaxed!). My plan is to make them small bounces on a smaller circle next time to really get his hind legs active and strong. I feel like I’m behind in his legging up because I don’t have much of a hill at home and it’s been so wet, so this is the best I can do for now.

This past weekend, I took him to an indoor, which is always challenging. Indoors make you tend to ride backwards and this time, we were actually jumping solid beginner novice/novice fences.

We trotted over a low, wide oxer, which was beneficial for me since I had to follow through with my hands and wait with my upper body. It also helped him stretch his topline and use his back.

It took me a few tries to get my feel back as we cantered over it, then we continued on to a tall cross-rail across the diagonal, three strides angled over an oxer that was part of a gymnastic on the centerline, then three more strides to a tall cross-rail at the end of the diagonal.

The first time, he actually waited and listened because it’s been awhile since we’ve jumped such an acute angle. The next time, the first two were good, then he tried to plow off over the last.

So, we had a very strong half halt the next time, and by the final try, he actually backed off and listened! He knows how to do this and just wants to jump bigger and get on with it, so I’ve accepted the fact that it will take several rides before we get our “whoa” button back. I certainly can’t fault him for wanting to jump again!

We finished by trotting into a bounce, one stride, one stride, bounce, which really made him sit up and listen. I tend to build things gradually at home for my own sake, but the more times you do things with him, the worse it can sometimes get, so it can be a good strategy to go right through.

On New Year’s Day I took Bear cross-country schooling since the footing seemed to be the best it’s probably going to be for awhile.

He was certainly happy to be out and it took him about 20 minutes to focus. I was worried since we didn’t have stud holes that he might slip, but he stayed quite balanced the whole time.

As you can see from the video, he was quite good. The brush jump tickled his foot I think, so he kicked out on landing, but the bounce bank was great considering he’d never done it before.

He was even happy to trudge through the water with ice on top, but we unfortunately couldn’t do much more than that at the water jump.

On Sunday I jumped him before taking Oh So to his lesson. I just cantered a few things, like the spooky Christmas tree, which he could care less about, and did a double bounce to a one-stride, which he just loped over.

I’ve got two new books with tons of cavaletti and grids in them, so I’ll set something up this weekend after the deep freeze comes and goes this week and write reviews.

Book Review: Blyth Tait’s Cross-Country Clinic


Over my Christmas break, I was in search of some inspiration and new gymnastic exercises as Oh So and Bear are coming back into jumping work, so I pulled out an oldie but a goodie–Blyth Tait’s Cross-Country Clinic, which was published in 1999.

A four-time Olympian for New Zealand, Tait brings a wealth of experience to his book. The format is question and answer, which makes it really easy to find what you’re looking for.

The book is laid out into five sections–Horse Problems, Rider Problems, Cross-Country Problems, Problems Arising At Competitions and Training Exercises.

Each question is pretty broad, such as, “What are the causes of a run-out?” and “How can I prevent a run-out from happening”, and Tait provides several bullet point answers, making it an easy read. The book is illustrated throughout with photos of Tait and others demonstrating both correct riding and flaws, as well as diagrams.

Tait’s training philosophy is systematic and common sense–for nearly every problem he advises being consistent in your training, empathetic to your horse, but also keeping a firm insistence when things go awry.

He’s also good at explaining the mechanics of cross-country position–from things as simple and obvious as looking up to improve balance to how to improve weakness on landing from a fence.

Perhaps the most useful section was the Training Exercises at the end of the book. Some of the 14 exercises are quite simple, such as working on a figure 8 over a vertical, but others ramped up the difficulty with multiple fences to help improve the horse’s form.

Tait explains the benefit of the exercise, things to be aware of and most importantly, provides the distances and strides in meters AND feet!

While I wish there were maybe a couple of exercises that focus on rider position, I’m only too happy to have more ideas to work on Oh So’s technique.

For those new to eventing, those who want a refresher on cross-country technique or those who are looking for a few new exercises to try this winter, Blyth Tait’s Cross-Country Clinic is a good choice.

 It’s available for $11.00 from

Product Review: Bedding Test

I did a bedding test this fall for The Chronicle’s Untacked magazine. I didn’t quite find one I loved better than the wood shavings we use, but Bear sure does make a nice model, doesn’t he?

Be sure to pick up a copy of the Jan/Feb 2015 issue!

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2014 Recap – Some pretty high highs, but some pretty low lows


Oh So was looking good in his lesson this week.

When I decided to write a year-end recap, I had initially decided to title it something like, “2014–the year that never was” or, “2014 Sucked”, but once I started looking back, I realized that while 2014 was full of lots of lows, it was also full of plenty of highs.

I was feeling pretty good heading into the year–I spent New Years covering a George Morris clinic in Florida–five days of beautiful, sunny weather and lots of learning–but as I prepared to board my flight to go home, I found out my English Pointer Ramsey had died suddenly. My parents tried to keep him comfortable so I could say goodbye, but he just couldn’t hold on.

It was devastating to lose a member of our family and I still think about him everyday. This is the first Christmas in awhile where he won’t be there.

Most of January and February were spent surviving one of the coldest and most miserable winters we’ve had in awhile, all while trying to start Oh So’s rehab under saddle and transitioning him to some turnout after being on stall rest. It was odd not preparing for Southern Pines in March, but I did have something to look forward to with Bear, who turned four in February.

He made quite a bit of progress over the winter and we were finally able to get out and cross-country school in March, where he proved that he had the aptitude for eventing. We did several combined tests and he surprised me with his willing attitude. It was such a difference to Oh So–no drama!

We did out first real event in early September at Loch Moy, and save for a little drama in dressage, had a good time.

Over the summer, Oh So returned to full work and we had a few cross-country schools under our belts before deciding to try for a novice and a couple of trainings in the fall season. I was feeling a bit out of practice over the bigger fences but towards the end of the summer, I really felt like I was back in sync with him.

GRC Photo

GRC Photo

Unfortunately, he did something to his right hip/SI joint around the same time and it took awhile to figure that out. I was so close to being able to compete with him that I could taste it! We’re now starting to jump again and I’m hoping to compete again in the spring.

As a result of Oh So’s injury, Bear got to start his recognized eventing career sooner than I’d thought. I was pretty nervous but he did very well at his first beginner novice at Seneca Valley, save for being eliminated at the water!

We had a longer gap than I wanted between that and Waredaca, which was full of drama and ended in me falling off, but we rebounded for Virginia the next weekend and completed (and went through the water!).

AEC Texas-style!

This is the first year of my life since I started eventing where I really haven’t had a “season”. At times I felt lost, both in my training because I didn’t have a goal to work towards, but also with what to do when my whole life has revolved around the eventing season.

But as a result, I got to travel quite a bit and learn through osmosis. Watching the best horses and riders in the U.S. as part of my job is a treat, whether it’s eventing, dressage or show jumping.

Riding Bear has taught me a lot more about riding than I imagined. He might be mentally quieter than Oh So, but I have to sit tighter from time to time since he is still four!

I’ve also learned to savor every ride. Before Oh So’s injury, I got worked up about this or that as we prepared for an event, but to be honest, I’m lucky he came back from his injury and that I can still ride him. I’m looking forward to that moment as the starter counts us down in the box in our first event back.

The view from San Gimignano

Outside of horses, I got a sister-in-law when my brother got married in May and I learned I’m becoming an aunt next year to a little girl!

I also traveled to Italy for 10 days. I love traveling and find I always come back a much more educated person. I’m not sure where I’ll go in 2015, but I’m thinking maybe Germany later in the year.

On a sad note, we had to put down one of our cats, Winnie, who we inherited with our farm back in 2002. He was quite old and developed cancer cells on his lungs, so it was time, but sad none the less.

Professionally, I took a step up at COTH this year and really felt like I found my place and became a part of the team. I traveled A LOT, which is my favorite part of the job.

I met interesting people, saw cool places and took lots of photos.

Here’s a recap with links to my coverage-

George Morris clinic
Nations Cup Wellington
Global Dressage Forum North America
Carolina International
The Fork
Jersey Fresh
WEG Prep Trial
National Young Horse Championships
Plantation Field
Fair Hill
Mary King Clinic
USEA Convention

I’ve got a lot of cool things lined up for next year, including a trip to the Pan American Games in Toronto and a big life change that I’ll post about when it happens.

I’m looking forward to next year and I’m glad to say goodbye to 2014. Here’s to hoping for Oh So’s return to competition, finding Bear a good home and a little bit of luck.

Winter Doldrums


I haven’t written in about a month since things with Oh So and Bear are just trudging along as we go further into winter.

Oh So has been cantering for a couple of weeks now and feels pretty good so I’ve been working on trot poles and if it ever dries up a bit, I need to be getting out on the hills.

He’s had a bit of a cold/respiratory thing this week with some snot and a slight cough, so I’ve been keeping his work pretty easy.

Bear unfortunately had a heel bruise that’s taken some time, but I think he’s finally come sound this week. He hasn’t quite forgotten everything he knows, but he does feel a bit rusty! I’m hoping to maybe pop over a few jumps this weekend if my dressage trainer Nicky thinks he looks good. The lameness is so slight at this point, but I want to make doubly sure that he’s going well.

I do think the little forced break has helped him. He feels stronger and more forward, possibly because he’s been quite bored out in the field. I think he really enjoys having a job, so fingers crossed we can move forward. Of course I got a couple of calls on him over the last few weeks…

At work, I got to cover a day of the Mary King clinic at Morven Park which was really cool. She unfortunately did the same exact lesson for every group/level, but I did get a few new exercises to try.

I’ve been working on using four canter poles on a 20 meter circle with Oh So this week and I think it will be good for Bear too. It’s so basic, but can be so hard!.

I’ve been really yearning to jump. I can’t believe I have two horses out of commission at the same time. I’m ready for this year to be over!

I traveled back to Texas this past weekend to cover the USEA Convention in Fort Worth. I got to visit my former co-worker Megan, who lives nearby and she took me for a quick tour of the city, which was quite modern save for the Stockyards, which were the historical part of town.

It was pretty cool to see governance in action and I got to sit in on some private high performance meetings with chef d’equipe David O’Connor, which made me feel pretty cool!

I don’t have much else going on for now until Oh So and Bear start jumping and going off the property, so I’ll update again soon.



Catching Up On A Busy Fall

It’s been awhile since I’ve written because I’ve been quite busy the last several weekends. I went to Fair Hill to cover it for COTH and was a bit disappointed to have some camera equipment issues, but Jennie Brannigan was a gracious winner and made for a good story.

I also got my first COTH cover after nearly three years of working here! It just takes the right timing and being in the right place to get that “cover shot” and I’m glad I dragged myself up to Morven Park to take photos.


Oh So got his SI injected about 3 weeks ago but was not getting much better, so I finally took him to get his hip injected after the vet flexed his hip joint and determined that that was where the initial injury probably was. I’m just frustrated to have spent the money on the SI, although when he palpated it, there was no pain, so at least that helped.

I feel like he’s come back so well from the initial suspensory/check ligament injury and to have this happen just when we were getting going is just a little cruel! Back to more flatwork for awhile, but the vet is confident that the hip injection will help, so fingers crossed.

I had hoped to take Bear to another event between Seneca and Waredaca, but it didn’t work out with my schedule and Lisa’s schedule, so I went into Waredaca feeling like Bear shouldn’t have had so much time in between.

Here’s us schooling the weekend before Fair Hill.

It was super windy and chilly at Waredaca and we got there early to let him hang for a bit. He seemed happy to watch the world go by, but when I got on for dressage warm up, he was clearly up. Within the first 20 minutes of warming up on the grass, he stepped out of his shoe, so I had to get off and get it tacked back on, leaving me with about 15 minutes left of warmup.

He was as steady as I could have asked for by then, but the test was just not very polished, so we ended up with a 38.0.

Show jumping was quite spooky for him because the ring is a bit raised up above the property. When we got in, there were horses in paddocks, the trade fair and the warm up to see outside the ring, so I needed to get him a bit more focused than he was. Every jump had some kind of filler and that’s where I wished we’d been able to go somewhere else and school after Seneca since the places we usually have lessons at have pretty plain jumps.


He popped over the first jump and I lost my position a bit, then we turned to the second jump off an awkward line and he started to take off, but then put his feet down and knocked the jump down. I think I rode the line badly and didn’t press him off the ground when he was maybe a bit insecure, so we represented and he pinged way up in the air and landed all four feet at once! We headed to fence 3, which also had a filler in it, and he was cross cantering and stopped again, I think because he was flustered and I didn’t ride him hard enough to it.

We re-presented and finished the course much better. I’m disappointed that I didn’t give him the ride he needed when I should have expected he might back off, but I’m glad he was willing to keep trying for me–that just shows how much of an amateur horse he’s turning out to be!

I knew I’d need to be proactive on cross-country and he was definitely backed off some of the jumps because he’s just never seen anything like them. We don’t get a chance to school the courses because the schooling days are always during the week, so we’ve had to make due with the few schooling courses we have access too.

Here are some of the highlights from Waredaca.

I knew he might have a second look at the down bank, which was fence 6 on course, so I brought him back to a trot, but he still stopped, so I re-presented and he popped off just fine. The next few jumps were good and then we got to a log that was in complete shade and surrounded by a fence on one side and tall pine trees on the other. I rode to the bottom of it and he stopped.

We got over it the second time, then did a nice roll top before the water jump and came back to a trot for the water. He looked, but he kept going in! I was sure we’d be eliminated, so I didn’t stick to my plan to get to the jump that was one stride out of the water and up a steep incline–another question he’s never seen.

Lisa and I said if he went right in the water in trot, that I would circle back out of the water onto the grass and approach that jump from the grass on a slight angle. I’m not sure why I thought trotting with no impulsion up and out of the water to a question he’s never seen was a good idea, but I did it anyways, he stopped and I came off over his shoulder…dumb!

It also turned out he’d lost the other shoe somewhere on course. Have you ever had an event where just about everything that can go wrong does? I never had until Waredaca!

The Virginia Horse Trials as an overnight wouldn’t have been my first choice for his third recognized event ever, but it’s one of my favorites and the last one of the year and I knew the course would be inviting for him.


I was slightly nervous about our bad outing at Waredaca but I was glad to be able to get right back out there and hopefully correct it.

We drove down on Friday and I got on him as soon as we’d unpacked. He was a bit wide-eyed as I rode to the top of the hill to school, but we went for a walk around the grounds after and he was as well-behaved as I could have asked.

We put his hay net outside his stall when we were there and he enjoyed eating and people/horse watching. Our dressage wasn’t until 4pm on Saturday so I schooled him a bit in our warm up ring in the morning. He was impressed again, but I’m glad we worked a bit so he could get used to seeing horses below him and having a view of the whole facility from on top of the hill.

webVF4C3140I did about 30 minutes of warmup for the actual test and then we had to walk halfway down the hill to a ring by itself. I was worried he might be distracted with horses above and below him, but since the riders before and after us were still there, he kept his focus and put in a pretty good test for a 32, his best score yet. We got an 8 on our first centerline and 6s and 7s for the rest. Now we just need to turn those 6s into 7s.

I’ve discovered that I need to start seriously schooling in the enclosed 20 x 40 ring because he seems to shut down a bit and fall through the corners, so that will be on my list of things to work on until he’s sold. I have one set up in the ring at home, but I usually end up in the 20 x 60 area.

We were up bright and early on Sunday to jump the biggest beginner novice show jumping course I’ve ever seen! It was shared with the championships, so it was beefy, mostly oxers and a few of them square.

When I get nervous, my lower leg gets a bit loose, so my position was a bit lacking and our flow wasn’t very smooth, but we got the job done and jumped clear, moving up from 8th after dressage to 4th. Lisa keeps reminding me that he is 4 still. He’s mostly changing his leads if I get them wrong and I trotted once, but I would say the last four jumps were the best, a vertical to a two-stride to a square oxer to finish.

We then had to wait five hours for cross-country when I think we would have gone a lot webVF4P3589better if we’d gone straight over from show jumping.

He got to the cross-country warm up and was quite impressed and up. We walked over the the start box and my first mistake was not getting a running start on a horse that can get behind my leg.

We had an ugly spot to the first jump and I ended up on his neck. Embarrassing! I thought it was all over before it even started, but we righted ourselves and headed to the second, a simple cabin. I should have really gotten after him so he didn’t second guess that jump after a crappy first one, and he ran out.

I think I was riding him down to it with not enough leg and gumption to back it up, so it was definitely my fault and very frustrating.

I came around again and used my stick a bit and we popped over it. I had to ride the rest of the course a lot stronger than I expected, but I think it was mostly because I took away a bit of his confidence after that bad first jump. He’s never seen hills quite like those at Virginia, so going down them was challenging, but he never said no, just more like, ‘Are you sure? OK.’

We trotted into the water and trotted out over a small jump, then the last three fences were the best out of stride.

webVF4P3602Even with the stop we finished a more than a minute fast. I haven’t really thought much about time on him, but since we were able to cross through the finish flags this time, it was cool to see how easy he made the time. His stride is quite big.

We ended up last, but that’s ok. He’s done a lot of growing up this fall and even if I didn’t have the best results each time, he learned something new every time out and came out a better horse for it. I think he actually started figuring out what the start box was at Virginia because he was jigging a bit as we circled it, and that’s a pretty cool feeling. He definitely enjoys his job, he just hasn’t done it enough and I need to rise to the occasion and let him know how much fun eventing can be. I also need to ride every fence and not take any of them for granted because he is a baby and might have a look. I need to get better about pressing him off the ground or having my leg there in case he does back off. Riding a baby is hard! Oh So just never said no when I was bringing him along and Bear is definitely a different ride, but in a good way because it’s making me be a better, more proactive rider.

I wish we could do another event this fall but that’s about it for Area II. Now we’ll buckle down and work on some gymnastics and his form over fences as we keep advertising him for sale.

If you’re interested, we’re asking $15,000. Give me a call at (540) 903-6483 or email