I have poles down in my school all the time and I use this to create different exercises and interest for the horses. Before you start the pole work the horses need to be well warmed up, so do your normal warm up routine for five or 10 minutes. I always like to do slow trotting, small steps in an even rhythm with the horse going to the rein and then the same in the canter. I think this allows the horse to find it's central balance without leaning on the hand and without rushing behind which allows the back to become more supple. It also allows the rider to feel any uneven steps or soreness that could be a problem before you proceed with the more strenuous work.
So start with the poles in walk have them 3 strides apart and allow the horse to walk straight over them with no restriction. You need to work out the distance depending on your own horse, they need to just ask the horse to stretch a little bit more than normal, no more and no less to begin with. You can then gradually open the distance up to tax the stretch more. You must allow the horse total freedom for this exercise. As you can see I have put two smaller poles either side of the large poles, this will encourage the horse to step over the poles and not put an extra step in and you will still get a nice large stride. You can see in the first video this is what Felia is doing with the added smaller poles to get her to stretch more. Once this is achieved then move on to what I call weaving, so you basically chicane in and out of the poles like I am showing you in the second clip. Start by missing two gaps and go for the third and then gradually bring it down, miss one gap, go for the second and then don't miss any gaps if the horse is supple enough to cope with it. Don't pressurise the horse, find a comfortable place to start and work from there. This can be done in a long neck, half long and full long neck. Control the quarters as you go round the tips of the poles with your outside leg allow the bend with your outside rein and create the bend with your inside rein, then transfer the weight into both hands before you set up for the reverse flexion for the new turn and then the whole routine starts again. Create the inside flexion with the inside hand, allow the flexion with the outside and use the outside leg to control the quarters so the quarters don't swing out. You can have some trot work and canter work in between these exercises to keep the horse warm, loose and supple. You can move off and work some basic movements and then come back to the polls again to create variety. You will be amazed at how much more supple your horses feels when you return from the poles to your flat work.
Finally the figure of eight and circles that are shown in the last video clip. This can be done with three or four poles, the distance needs to be at least 4 strides, again this varies depending on your horse. Start on the end pole just circling round that pole containing the flexion in the same way we did with the chicane bending polls. Once you have created a good bend and a good flexion on that circle change direction and circle round the next pole, keep circling until you are happy the horses are supple, relaxed and following the flexion. You can spiral from one pole to another either staying on the same flexion or riding like a figure of eight, always make sure you get a smooth correct flexion and bend before you change to the new bend. All this work can be done in hand as well and on then long lines. We do it all three ways!
I hope this is helpful and you have fun. If you do start to use the poles please check your distances, the horses will let you know where they are comfortable and then expand from there. Don't over stretch them to begin with.
The best type of pole I have found to use is the half round pole so it is like a semicircle flat one side and around the other they stay put and are much safer if the horses stand on them they don't roll around.