If your horse can start out a bit stiff in training sessions, or struggles to engage his hindquarters, there are a few exercises you can try to help increase muscle strength where it is needed, to see more freedom of movement and mobilise your horse’s core.
Kathryn Nankervis and Liz Launder from the Equine Therapy Centre at Hartpury University explain techniques to help improve your horse’s way of going and help to keep him sound.
Sternal lifts to raise the back will help to recruit your horse’s abdominal muscles and shorten the underline.
Slowly starting at your horse’s sternum, slide your fingers down the midline until you notice a rise of the lower cervical spine and withers. The point that this rise occurs is the point at which you hold for 3 to 5 seconds. Repeat 3 to 5 times (this is the horse equivalent of doing an abdominal crunch).
Asking him to reverse while doing a sternal lift flexes her core and encourages him to ‘sit’.
If your horse has a tendency to pull himself along at speed but out of balance, slowing him down will help him shift the balance into his hindquarters. Transitions will also help with this.
Polework can help generate increased flexion of all hindlimb joints. Start with poles on the ground and progress to raised poles. This is best done in-hand or long-lining. Remember to reduce the distance between the poles when raised.
Using a sideways pole will challenge your horse’s balance, control and flexibility. Place a pole in the middle of your arena or field and walk your horse forwards and sideways over the pole.
This encourages your horse to stabilise himself as he lifts his leg across. He has to shift his balance in response to each step, so he ends up shifting his weight backwards and forwards and from side to side. This exercise can be done while riding, in-hand or on long-reins.
Long-reining and hacking over different surfaces in a straight line will encourage your horse to push with his hindlimbs, particularly on firmer surfaces.
This exercise uses a ‘spin’ to mobilise the entire body. Using a lunge line, stand by your horse’s left shoulder and walk around his back end, passing the lunge lune around his hindquarters until you are standing on the opposite side, facing his shoulder.
Gently pull the lunge line until he turns his head and neck, and slowly turns round to face you, stepping under with his hindquarters. Let him walk a few steps towards you to complete the exercise.
The aim is for your horse to lift his shoulders and take his head away and down, so his middle has to flex. You don’t need an arena for this, just a flat area with secure ground. Perform on both reins.