Getting Started With Pole Bending

Pole bending, like barrel racing, is a timed rodeo event that requires the rider and horse to maneuver around objects as quickly as possible. While it's occasionally seen at professional rodeos, this event is mostly popular in high-school and college rodeo tournaments. The best competitors in pole bending can weave through the set of poles without knocking them down, racing toward the finish line free of penalties. The event calls for excellent horsemanship, communication between the rider and horse as well as mastery of maneuvering techniques.

There's much more to excelling at pole bending than merely guiding a horse around poles. In this article, we'll describe the pattern that riders must follow in this event, common reasons why poles are knocked down and compensating for a "crooked" horse.

Running The Pattern

In pole bending, 6 poles are positioned in a line. The poles are placed 21 feet apart. The rider and horse must follow a pattern through the poles in the quickest time possible without downing the poles. Each downed pole earns a 5-second penalty.

From the starting line, the rider runs the length of the poles on one side. Once the rider has reached the last pole, she must round the top of it and proceed back toward the starting line, weaving her horse through the poles. Once she reaches the pole nearest the starting line, she must round the bottom of it and weave her horse through the poles again toward the furthest pole. The final leg of the event requires the rider to guide her horse around the top of the furthest pole and gallop the length of the poles back to the starting line.

Reasons For Downed Poles

There are several causes for downed poles during this event. First, pole bending requires a level of precision unmatched by any other timed rodeo event. Many riders underestimate the skill required at high speeds and invariably knock the poles down. Second, horses often stiffen when rounding poles. A horse that flexes at the wrong time can position the rider too close to the pole, causing the rider to down the pole with her knee.

Third, direction changes require perfect timing. If a horse changes direction a second too soon, the rider's knee will often down a pole. Fourth, a horse that flexes in the wrong direction can cause downed poles. Ideally, a horse should flex in an arc that surrounds the pole. When the horse is inversely flexed, its flank can push the rider's knee into the pole.

Is Your Horse "Crooked?"

Most horses - like people - are "crooked." That is, they have a preferred side (similar to how people are right or left-handed). The ideal horse for pole bending is a "straight" horse. A straight horse carries his entire body in the same direction he's traveling. A horse will easily travel an arc on one side, but stiffen while traveling an arc on the opposite side. To compensate for the horse's natural tendency toward one side, a rider should take her horse through exercises that encourage use of the horse's "weak" side. That said, the most effective way to "straighten" a horse is to train it as a colt and eliminate the tendency at a young age.

Speed, Agility And Communication

After barrel racing, pole bending is the most popular timed rodeo event. It requires a blend of speed, agility and proficiency between the rider and horse. They function as a team, communicating with each other at each step of the course. Small errors in judgment can result in penalties or even disqualification. Pole bending, while rarely seen in professional rodeo competitions, appeals to fans and participants from both genders and all ages. It's certain to remain a major attraction for years to come.