When practicing your trail-class walk-, trot-, and lope-overs, you need substantial supports to hold your poles. They should be stout enough not to roll over should your horse hit a pole, but not so rooted to the ground that they won't move should he get into a wreck. You want him to learn to respect the poles—and avoid hitting them—but you don't want him to get hurt or trapped.
Arizona Quarter Horse trainers Jim and Deanna Searles--who specialize in all-around horses--have the perfect solution. They use notched blocks (also called pole-holders, lifters or risers) custom-made by their stable associate, Ken Clark. Here's how you can make them at home.
Step 1. Buy wood. At the lumber yard, ask for solid-wood beams or glu-lam beams-2-by-4-inch boards glued or laminated together. (Ken uses pine beams, about 51/2 to 6 inches thick, in a variety of heights. Your lumberyard, however, may carry other wood types and sizes.)
Step 2. Calculate dimensions. Consult your association's rule book to find out the maximum heights for walk-, trot-, and lopeovers. Example: In the American Quarter Horse Association, walkovers may be elevated to 12 inches, and trot- and lopeovers to 8 inches "measured from the ground to the top of the element." (Tip: Most trail-class obstacles utilize standard jump poles, so when you add the height of the notched block to the height of the pole, it must be within the legal limits for competition.)
The Searles have two notched block heights: a 9-inch block for walkovers (9 inches, plus 3 inches for the pole, equals 12 inches) and a 5-inch block for trot- and lopeovers (5 inches, plus 3 inches for the pole, equals 8 inches). Other measurements remain the same: 9 (or 5) inches high by 8-inches wide by 51/2 inches deep (or thick). (Note: Lumber's dimensions aren't standard, so your measurements may not exactly match the Searles', but they should be close.)
Step 3. Measure and cut. With a measuring tape and pencil, measure and mark the beam in accordance with your rule book. Using a band saw, cut the beams at these marks.
Step 4. Create the V-notches. (For details, see diagram, above.) To make each notch, use a band saw to start an angled cut 11/2 inches in from each edge. Then, on each side, make a 11/2-inch-long angled cut toward the center. This forms the notch that holds the pole in place.
Step 5. Paint to suit. You can leave the blocks bare or paint them any color you'd like to dress up your practice course.
Final note: If you're not handy and can't find anyone around the house who is, call Ken Clark at (602) 569-0425 and ask for help--or just buy already-made notched blocks directly from him.
This article first appeared in the June 2000 issue of Horse & Rider magazine.