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Five core exercises for horses to improve performance

Developing a horse’s core strength is vital in ensuring they are able to fulfill their athletic potential and avoid injury. Veterinary Physiotherapist Hayley Marsh PgDip Vet Phys BSc MNAVP gives you some exercises to try at home.

CARROT STRETCHES 

These exercises recruit the core muscles and stretch out the back and neck muscles.
Using a carrot, encourage the horse to bring his head down between his front legs.
If he bends a front leg, that is fine. Encourage him to stretch as far as it is comfortable and hold the stretch for 10 seconds, avoiding any jerky movements.

Next, stand with your back to the horse’s shoulder and encourage him to bend his head and neck around you, ideally keeping his head vertical, and aim for the direction of the back fetlock. Again, aim for a smooth stretch, not a snatch, and hold the stretch for l0 seconds.

POLE WORK

These exercises can be done in-hand or ridden. Any kind of pole work is great for core stability because it encourages the horse's head to drop and the core to lift, while increasing flexion and extension of the limbs.

A simple pole exercise is to ride, walk or lunge the horse through a sequence of poles in a line. Start with one pole and build up as your horse gets more confident. You can then start to raise alternate ends of the poles and then the entire pole to challenge the horse further by asking him to flex his joints and lift his limbs higher.

This can be done in both walk and trot, although, it is more effective in the walk as there is no moment of suspension, so the horse is constantly recruiting his muscles.

 

HILLWORK 

Riding your horse up and down hills is great for targeting the core as it requires the horse to stabilise himself, particularly when walking down hill. The steadier you attack hill work, the more balanced the horse needs to be, and therefore the more he will recruit his core muscles to steady himself.
 

BACKING UP

Asking your horse to back up causes the hindleg to come underneath him and his core muscles to engage.

In-hand, ask your horse for a square halt, then, by gently applying pressure to his chest, ask him for a backwards step. Try to encourage the head to stay low. Start with two to three steps, then increase as the horse gets more confident, building up to 20 steps if possible.
 

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 no end.

Starting in walk, ask the horse to stretch the contact down, engage his hindquarters and step through underneath his body. You want to feel him come up through his back.
In order to achieve this effectively, your horse needs to be relaxed, soft and able to carry himself.
 
Note: The horse should be warmed up prior to performing the exercises 
 
Hayley Marsh runs an equine and canine rehabilitation centre in Hartpury, Gloucestershire.

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