The abdominal muscles play a vital role in stabilising a horse’s pelvis, spine and back and those horses with poor core strength will struggle with their movement and balance and be unable to reach peak performance. Functional anatomist and biomechanist, Gillian Higgins from Horses Inside Out, shared some of the best exercises to help strengthen these all important muscles when she was a speaker at the BHS National Convention at Hartpury College last year.
Place five trotting poles on the ground approximately 80cm-1m apart depending on the size of your horse, raising alternate ends off the ground with a block. Walk over the poles on a loose rein with your leg off and let the horse take control. Progress to raising both ends of the three middle poles.
Points to remember: Sit up tall, look ahead and push your hands forward.
What Gillian says: “Halt a few strides out from the poles to let the horse see what he has to do and then slowly walk over them. Raised walking poles are particularly good for a horse’s core muscle strength, hoof-brain coordination, posture and back rotation.”
Place three poles on the ground (separated by a wider distance than in the exercise above) and raise both ends of each pole. Canter over the poles.
Points to remember: Make sure you have an active canter and remain soft in your hands.
What Gillian says: “Canter is the closes gait to a sit up as it uses both sides at the same time so working in canter is one of the simplest ways to enhance abdominal muscle tone. This exercise is also good for developing thoracic sling and hindquarter strength, back flexibility and lumbosacral mobility.”
Place five poles end to end on the ground in a long line. Ride your horse alongside the poles for an odd number of steps before asking him to step sideways over the pole. Continue walking down the other side of the pole for the same number of steps before stepping back over the pole. Continue the exercise along the length of the pole. Start with seven steps before reducing it to five and then three.
Points to remember: Make sure the leg closest to the pole goes over first and keep an even rhythm.
What Gillian says: “It can be useful for the rider to do this exercise on foot first so they understand how difficult it is and what is being asked of the horse. This exercise is very good for lateral stability and flexibility, proprioception and core muscle strength and ensures you are aware of where the horse’s legs are. It also helps to develops harmony between horse and rider.”
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Build three oxers on a curving line and canter over them. To develop the exercise make the fences wider.
Points to remember: Maintain the rhythm, sit quietly, look towards the next fence and stay on your line.
What Gillian says: “Having three fences in a row is more tiring than just one on its own and makes the horse work. This exercise is not about height it’s about width and getting the horse stretching over his back and elongating his frame over the three oxers. It ensures the horse brings his hindleg underneath him and is another good one for increasing thoracic sling strength.”
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