Strengthen Your Horse’s Core with Carrot Stretches and Other Simple Exercises
Like people, an equine athlete’s core strength helps to not only prevent injury while increasing training levels but also improve recovery from injuries. Dr. Kirstin Bubeck of the Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery Service at Tufts Equine Center treats a wide variety of exercise-related afflictions each year and often suggests conditioning activities to help build a horse’s core muscles. Here, we take a look at some of Dr. Bubeck’s top recommendations:
Often encouraged through the use of carrots to get the horse to stretch to the desired location, many mobilization exercises help build core strength. These stretches are beneficial for horses in a range of circumstances and, if completed five times a day, five days a week can result in improved core strength, flexibility, and balance within three months. It is important to note, however, that the horse should never be forced into a position, as this could cause harm or injury.
– Chin to carpus (knee): Standing near the horse’s girth or shoulder area and facing the same direction as the horse, encourage the horse to stretch down to the knees, bending evenly over the neck and back. As the horse becomes more flexible, you can increase the stretch to reach between the knees.
– Lumbosacral lift: Standing to the side of the horse’s back end and, facing the same direction, place your fingertips on either side of the spine near the base of the tail, and apply gentle pressure. Move both hands slowly and equally forward toward the head until the horse “butt tucks,” or flexes his lumbosacral region. Avoid pressing too hard to prevent strain.
– Chin to hip: Standing at the girth and facing away from the horse, encourage the horse to flex around your body, reaching toward the hip. This may be difficult for some horses to begin with, so it is essential to recognize your horse’s limits and slowly increase these stretches over time.
– Belly lift: Standing near the girth area facing the horse, gently apply pressure to the belly. The pressure applied—which will vary from horse to horse—will cause the horse to contract his abdominal muscles, in turn lifting his stomach and back.
Trot Pole Exercises
Studies have shown that utilizing trotting poles while riding restores joint motion and strengthens flexor and extensor muscles as well as forelimb adductor muscles. Ask your horse to walk and then trot over sets of four or more poles set one stride-length apart. To keep the horse interested and trotting actively forward, approach the evenly-spaced poles from different directions and build up to riding a figure of eight with trot poles along the diagonals as well as a serpentine with trot poles along each short side.
Exercising with Training Aids
Riding with certain training aids can be beneficial in building core strength. Studies have shown that resistance bands help to engage abdominal and hindquarter muscles, and may aid in the dynamic stabilization of the vertebral column. Additionally, complete balance training systems—consisting of ropes and pulleys that run along the sides of the horse with an elastic tensioner positioned behind the quarters—have shown to increase lumbosacral flexion and movement of the thoracolumbar spine, as well as activate abdominal muscles and the psoas muscle group.
From rehabilitation to moving up training levels, incorporating core strengthening exercises into your horse’s regular activities will help protect your horse’s health.