Most of you will have heard of carrot stretches but if not then they are a sequence of movements that dynamically mobilese and strengthen your horses core muscles. Narelle Stubbs and Hilary Clayton outline them in a book called ‘Activate your horse’s core’. This is a really good resource to have, and will show you how to get your horse to do the moves. It also shows you how to do other moves like belly lifts, tail pulls and weight shifts.
Belly lifts are a really good way to get your horse activating its core. It specifically works on the abdominal muscles but also brings the thoracic sling into play. To perform a belly lift you need to stand facing your horse’s side behind the elbow. Taking your hands apply pressure between the pectoral muscles on the sternum and gradually run your hands down towards the hind limb. Maintain the pressure as you do this. You should see that your horse lifts through its back. If not play around with the pressure until you find what works.
Backing up causes the hind legs to get right underneath your horse this in turn engages the core muscles and helps strengthen them. It will also highlight whether one side is stronger than the other. You want your horse to move back in a straight line. To perform this move get your horse to stand square and then apply some pressure to their chest asking them to step back. Start with a few steps trying to keep as straight as possible and gradually increase the number of steps. This is also a really good way to get the hind limbs to loosen of before ridden work. This can also be performed when ridden.
These are similar to tail pulls but I prefer giving these to clients as they are not applying any unwanted pressure to the tail. Again dock rocks help strengthen the core muscles. They also help activate the quadricep muscles and the tensor fasciae latae which help to stabilise the hind legs. To perform this stand facing your horses side in line with the hindquarters. Hook your hand over the dock of your horses tail. Gently pull towards you in an arch so that your horses hindquarters gently come towards you. Relax and let your hand return back to the start. Perform this both sides. Start with 5 each side and then gradually increase the repetitions.
Pole work is a great way to get your horse to activate its core and engage its hindquarters. It can be done in hand, ridden or on the lunge. Start off easy with one or two poles in a straight line. Gradually add poles over a number of weeks. Start in walk and then build to trot work. As your horse progresses you can start to raise the poles. Bring it back to one or two poles in walk and build the number of poles up gradually. Alter the distances between poles, create different patterns such as a circle or riding them over a triangle and getting them to bend. If you do this regularly to you start to notice a difference in your horses athleticism.
Long and low work
It is really important to give your horse a session where you have minimal collection. Allow your horse to stretch their necks down while working. A whole session be it schooling or out on a hack (if save to do so) would be beneficial. You can use it as a gentle active recovery session in their training plan. It will allow your horse to stretch and lift through its topline, activating its core muscles
Above are a number of exercises that will help any horse develop their core muscles even top competition horses. It will help develop suppleness, strength and resilience reducing the occurrence of injuries and allowing your horse to train and compete more efficiently and effectively.
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