Working your horse over poles can be hugely beneficial, even if that's as close to riding round Badminton as you'll ever get. Strength, suppleness, balance and rhythm can all be improved using some simple exercises.
Interspersing your schooling and hacking with a pole session helps keep the horse fresh, and is really beneficial for babies. One of the first outings I took my freshly backed 4 year old to was a pole work clinic (see above). Its a fun and easy way to build muscle and core strength in a fairly low impact way.
Don't be wary of poles if you haven't got a lot of equipment - a couple of small jump blocks or old tyres and a few poles are all you need to get started.
Randomly scattering poles around the arena can help encourage your horse to use its neck and stretch down over its back as it looks where the pole is and where it's putting its feet. As you ride around leave the horse to figure the pole out, don't be tempted to micromanage and try to adjust the horse to place it to the pole - your job is to aim for the middle and ride in an even rhythm up to and away from the pole.
Placing poles in a 'zig zag' formation as pictured above can be used in a number of different ways to improve rideability and develop elasticity and suppleness. Riding down the centre of each pole helps to challenge the horse a little further to think about where its feet are going - you can build on this by riding towards one end of the pole to start developing the idea of shortening and lengthening between the poles as the distance changes.
You can start to build some engagement and lift into the trot by raising the ends of the poles where they meet using a tyre or a block. This encourages the horse to step up and under in the trot more and develop the lift and suspension. It also works the core as it encourages that lift through the tummy away from the pole.
Do you have any pole exercises you use regularly?