Create a stronger, less injury-prone horse

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There are a range of exercises, both ridden and in-hand that can be incorporated into your horse’s daily training regime to strengthen your horse’s back between physio visits.

Veterinary physiotherapist Hayley Marsh explains, “Giving riders homework ensures the horse’s physio is ongoing, which will lead to a stronger, less injury-prone horse.”

Here are some of her recommended exercises that you can do with your horse.

Hill work

Riding your horse up and down hills is excellent for targeting the core as it requires him to stabilise himself, particularly when walking downhill.

It promotes core stability as he needs to recruit the abdominal muscles which, in turn, improves dynamic balance.

It also helps strengthen the hindquarter muscles, either through pushing himself up the hill, or maintaining his stability going down the hill.

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Walk is the best for building muscle as there is no moment of suspension. The steadier you attack hill work, the more balanced your horse needs to be, and therefore, the more he will engage his core muscles to steady himself.

Long and low

Riding your horse long and low, with his hindlegs underneath him and his back arching up like a bridge, engages the abdominal muscles and strengthens the back and topline.

Being able to walk, trot and canter long and low in self-carriage will improve your horse’s topline and core strength.

To correctly achieve the long and low posture, your horse must first engage from behind. An easy way to achieve this is to ask for long and low on a 10-15m circle, or through lateral work such as leg-yielding by placing your inside leg behind the girth and asking the inside hindleg to step underneath.

While doing this, split your hands, drop them to your knees and gently squeeze the reins to encourage your horse to lower his head. As soon as he gives, let your hand go forwards and down and scratch his neck to reward him.

Your horse must push from behind, not pull himself along, and should be soft and supple through his whole body.

To make the exercise more effective, circle round an object, like a jump wing. Direct your shoulders and your horse’s nose at the wing, while using your inside leg to move his hindquarters away.

Turning on a circle

 Turning your horse on a circle is a great way to get him to engage his core by stepping his hindlegs under his body.

While standing at your horse’s shoulder, ask him to move forwards, applying gentle pressure to his flank to turn him on a small circle around you.

His hindlegs should make a slightly bigger circle than his front legs, with his inside hind crossing underneath his body.

Do the exercise on both reins, swapping sides each time. When turning on a circle, make sure your horse is moving forwards and round.

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Make sure you do all exercises equally on both sides to prevent compensations and reduce the risk of injury.

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