Pole bending is an equine discipline which is well supported in the USA and Canada and similar to barrel racing is a popular gymkhana game, often seen in high school rodeos.
As with all rodeo disciplines, the foundation of the sport was formed through the necessity to control a heard on horseback and have the skills to do so safely and effectively. The horse and the rider must work as a team to complete the course in as fastest time as possible.
Pole bending is a great way to enforce good horsemanship and can be an early route into rodeo for many young riders. In the majority of cases, pole bending is a competition for girls and women but some boys and men do compete at lower levels of competition.
Origins of Pole Bending
Pole bending originates from The Nez Perce Native Americans who competed in a sport very similar to Pole Bending today. Their version of the sport is still played today and involves two riders completing the same course parallel to each other at the same time.
As with Pole Bending, the Native Americans used the sport to help train their youngsters and introduce them to riding and hoot handle horses turning at high speeds.
What is Pole Bending?
Pole Bending is a fast paced timed event that features a horse and one mounted rider, running a weaving or serpentine path around six poles arranged in a line. The fastest rider and horse to complete the pattern without knocking any poles down is the winner.
Penalties are given to riders if they knock over any of the poles, 6 of which are positioned evenly at 21ft apart. The rider and horse sprint down the side of the arena parallel to the poles and then turn back on themselves weaving through the 6 poles. When they have weaved around all 6 poles they then turn quickly and weave back through the 6 poles again and finish the pattern by sprinting back to the start again down the opposite side of the arena they started.
If the team knock over a pole 5 seconds is added to their time and if they miss a pole then 10 seconds is added to their time. Time really is key; with the current world record held at just 19.579 seconds - remarkable with how much distance is covered - and an indication of how penalties really cost the team.
Many pole bending riders will agree; the art of pole bending is a repetitive muscle motion for the horse which is developed through training and establishing a rhythm across the course.
Pole Bending injuries
The discipline is incredibly dangerous due to how fast the horses move and turn.
Unlike with 3-day eventing, riders in pole bending (and most rodeo sports) rarely wear protective gear (and even wear hats as opposed to helmets). Horses competing in the sport are known to fall, trip, slide and roll over and some accidents occur with riders losing their stirrups or falling from the saddle down to the speed in which the horses turn.
As well as creating risk to injury through falling, the sport also puts extreme pressures on the horses limbs and high volumes of suspensory ligament and tendons injuries are seen within the sport.
As well as tendon and ligament injuries, horses competing in pole bending can commonly develop splint injuries, stifle injuries or DDFT injuries which in most cases develop acute or severe lameness in the hind end due to the nature of the movement within the discipline.
As with any sports horse the animal is subjected to these pressures over a period of time which can naturally result in equine arthritis in their hocks and fetlocks. Other joint conditions found in horses are also commonly seen as well as a variety of hoof conditions.
Another commonly reported injury with horses competing in Pole Bending is caudal heel pain. Whilst not directly related to the sport itself, heel pain is more common in quarter horses than across the general equine population. Any issue related to the heel can be caused from variety of issues such as navicular bone issues or coffin joint problems and mainly occurs in the forelimbs.
Prevention is the best approach
The movements of Pole Bending horses are carried out at such extreme speeds that most riders will be well aware of the importance of managing their horse on a continuous and regular basis. Spotting equine lameness early is important so understanding your horse is important.
Whilst riders cannot prevent a traumatic injury they can provide their horse with several ongoing treatments to support them in the sport.
Many riders look at regular physiotherapy and chiropractor sessions. These are particularly useful at ensuring the horses skeletal structure is well aligned and not creating issues which cannot be detected with the naked eye. Similarly with massage therapy, many riders treat their horses to regular massage sessions to ensure their muscular system is properly functioning.
Diet and regular exercise is also key; ensuring the horse is receiving the correct mineral balance and exercise routines to stay as fit as possible.
EQU StreamZ magnetic bands have shown to provide significant advantages to horses competing in the sport. As no heat is created by this advancement in magnetic therapy, StreamZ technology is getting quite a name for itself within the discipline and provides a product which supports the horse when training, travelling to an event, before they compete and directly afterwards.
Introducing the wonderfully talented rider Brylee Bleil
Brylee is a young US-based rider (14) who competes in Pole Bending and Barrel Racing across North America. We were introduced to Brylee through one of our professional sponsors and are delighted to be able to support her moving forward.
"Rodeo runs deep in my family. In 2022 my older brother Jace made it to the CFR (Canadian Finals Rodeo) in steer wrestling and my sister Bailey is going to college in Texas on a rodeo scholarship. EQU StreamZ bands have helped speed up my horses recovery. I have noticed my horses are more agile and quick on their feet while performing and I can feel the results when I’m riding! I know the bands make them feel better."