You need to do everything you can to encourage your horse to maintain good back posture, as poor posture will affect their movement, how comfortable they are to ride, and put more wear and tear on their body, increasing the risk of injury, explains biomechanist Gillian Higgins.

“As soon as we sit on a horse’s back the spinous processes get that little bit closer together,” explains Gillian. “We also compromise the horse’s posture, affecting their balance and movement, and increase the stress on their joints, tendons and ligaments – all of which is quite depressing. So you may be thinking ‘should I stop riding my horse?’

“Of course not, but what you need to do is think of yourself as your horse’s personal trainer and use exercises to encourage them to be in the best possible posture.”

As Gillian explains, it’s important to regularly do exercises to help promote good back posture. She explores the main muscle groups involved and what you can do to help keep them in tip top shape.

Why good posture counts

You know that your own posture can affect your performance, movement, symmetry, breathing, comfort and musculoskeletal health, and it’s exactly the same for your horse. To help improve your understanding, try this:

  1. Sit on the edge of a seat.
  2. Tilt your pelvis as far forward as you can, extending and hollowing your back.
  3. Look up at the ceiling and push your shoulders back so you’re extending your back as far as you can.
  4. Now add some lateral flexion – take your left armpit towards your left hip and then repeat on the right.
  5. Now look straight ahead and tilt your pelvis the other way.
  6. Straighten your spine and flex it a bit so you can feel your abdominals recruit.
  7. Now repeat number four. This should be much easier to do.

This is exactly the same for your horse. If their back is in an extended position they’ll have reduced lateral flexion and less ability to perform.

To encourage good posture:

  1. Spend time in walk: a longer walk and a shorter walk, as well as lateral work. This is a great way to warm up before moving on to your main work in a schooling session.
  2. Use lateral work to encourage them to relax if they’re tense. The action of stepping across and under their body is great for improving their posture.
  3. Canter, as this gets your horse’s back really moving and the blood pumping, helping to warm their muscles up. All horses benefit from cantering early on in their training session; the trot always looks more forwards and expressive afterwards.

Meet the expert: Gillian Higgins is an equine sports and remedial therapist, BHS senior coach, biomechanist, anatomist and anatomical artist. Her business Horses Inside Out runs courses on understanding anatomy and biomechanics.

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