Pole Bending Article and Photos Copyrighted - see credits below
For the discipline of pole bending, a horse must be really athletic, although great basic speed is an asset as well, since this timed event is more demanding than others.
Pole Bending is a slalom-like course around six poles, performed at a gallop. The six upright poles are placed twenty-one feet apart and in a perfectly straight line. A rider begins with a flying start running to the far end of the line of poles and after turning around that first pole, weaves around and through the rest of them. After turning around the sixth pole, horse and rider weave again back through the poles, the way they came. After the last pole, it is a straight run at top speed to the finish line (which also was the starting line).
It is a simple enough pattern, but it takes an outstanding horse and a lot of training to do this well and be successful. That is probably why pole bending is not as widely popular as barrel racing. Many horses would have difficulties just to go through the poles and stay in a lope, let alone go fast. There is no penalty for being in the wrong lead, but the good runs are always the smooth runs, and without the correct lead, and without flying lead changes, there will not be a smooth run.
A horse without an easy and natural flying lead change will hardly ever be able to do well in this event
Knocking over a pole carries a five-second penalty. Losing your hat or helmet at any time will also result in a five-second penalty. Failure to follow the exact course of the pattern will result in disqualification.
Pole bending is an exciting event, and calls for finesse of the riders and horsemanship. When heading for the finish line, however, it is all sheer blasting speed.