Mastering lope overs at the Tim Kimura UK trail clinic
With a bit of practise and a few handy tips, lope overs aren’t as intimidating as they may seem. At a three-day UK trail clinic held at Sovereign Quarter Horses, Tim Kimura, the Man of Trail (MoT), gave participants and spectators guidance on how to successfully navigate this obstacle.
First work on getting a collected, controlled lope. If your horse is strung out, rushing or not easily guided, clearing the poles will be harder. Work on the basics first.
When you are taught to ride, you are often told to look up and look where you are going. That’s fine for classes like horsemanship and reining but as Tim says "when there are poles on the ground you have to shift your focus down". Tim says to visualise ladder lines or buckets in front of and behind the poles (see diagram). The lines are where you want your horse's feet to land and where you need to look or focus your attention.
The first ladder line or bucket should be about 6 inches or a horse's hoof length in front of the first pole. The others will be in the centre of each gap between the poles. You should also continue with ladder lines or buckets after the last pole to ensure you clear the poles with the back legs too. If you look at these, you are telling your horse this is where you want their feet to go. Whatever you do don’t look at the poles! If you do, your horse will hit them.
If you are looking at the ladder lines or buckets but are still hitting poles, try looking at them for longer, for half a second. If you are too quick, you will “skim” the poles and still hit them. If you always hit the fist pole, look in front of it longer. If you keep hitting the last pole, remember to add more ladder lines and don’t look up too soon, you need to clear the poles with the hind legs too.
Tim says: “look up go fast, look down go slow.” If you look up, you are telling your horse to go fast. If you keep your gaze down, keeping your zone small, your telling your horse to go slow. Keep your zone small. The dirt is your friend!
Your position can influence how well your horse lopes over the poles. Sit square in the saddle and sit back. Trail is like horsemanship with poles. Keep a good riding position to enable you to manoeuvre you and your horse effectively and maintain balance.
There are five stages to going over the poles:
Cadence over the poles
Departure is picking up the lope, then there is the approach to the poles, take off is where you land in front of that first pole, you want cadence over the poles and lastly, follow though keep going until the hind legs clear the last pole.
When looking at a set of lope overs, count your stride backwards from the poles. From the takeoff point in front of the first pole, count backwards in 6ft increments to visualise your strides approaching the poles. When you are riding to the poles, wait for the poles to come to you. If you look up at the poles, the horse will speed up or rush to the poles. Look at your ladder lines for each stride leading up to the poles, don’t look up to the first pole.
If approaching the poles from a corner, break it down. There is the pre-corner, the corner and post-corner. Once again break it down into strides and take them one at a time. Count out loud if it helps you. Riding trail is moments in time. Don’t rush to that pole. If every time you pick up the lope in the same place and every time you hit the poles, try picking the lope up closer or further away.
When going over the poles, try and maintain that collected lope. Try not to let you horse get stretched out or speed up over the poles. Count each stride and keep looking at your ladder lines in the gaps. Don’t lean forward to look at them though. If you are having trouble, try to visualise them. Don’t quit too soon after the last pole. If you look up before the hind legs are clear, you may hit it.
Practise does make perfect but when you get it right, think about what was good about it and remember it for next time. We can get excited when we get it right and just want to “do it again” but forget what we did to get it right! Also, be careful you don’t over practise in one session and lose any progress you’ve made by wanting to keep “doing it again” when it’s going well. Mixing it up can be beneficial as well. Don’t just lope over poles in straight lines, try curves, spokes or any configuration you can think of. Practise doing lope overs as part of a series of obstacles and work on the transitions in between.