Alongside the regular treatments your horse receives from a physio to resolve any specific issues, strengthening exercises can also be used in between treatments to complement and improve the work the therapist does.
To be most effective, exercises like this should be interspersed into your daily training. Ensure your horse is warmed up prior to performing the exercises.
Back it up
Asking your horse to back up causes the hindleg to come underneath him and his core muscles to engage.
Ask your horse for a square halt. Then, by gently applying pressure to his chest, ask him for a backwards step. Try to encourage his head to stay low.
Start with two or three steps, then increase the number as he gets more confident, building up to 20 if possible.
Any kind of polework is great for horses. It improves core stability because it encourages the horse’s head to drop and the core to lift, while increasing flexion and extension of the limbs.
It’s an easy way to increase the range of motion in the joints and, in turn, help recruit and build muscles equally on both sides of the body.
Using six poles, set up a maze (see image). Walk through the maze in a forward, balanced walk.
As you turn each corner, open your inside hand to encourage your horse to bend through his body in the direction he’s travelling.
Place your inside leg behind the girth, encouraging him to step under and cross over with his hindlegs.
You can do the maze in walk or trot, but walk is the best for building muscle as there is no moment of suspension. It can be done in-hand, on long lines, or when ridden.
Upward and downward transitions in all three paces and within paces will build strength, through your horse having to accelerate and decelerate.
This causes him to become more balanced and carry the weight of his hindquarters, not his forehand. Thus improving muscular strength.
For more physio exercises to try at home with your horse, read the full article in issue 450, available here.
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