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Kim Backer stretches her horse to the left
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Neck and back stretch
a bow is an excellent stretch for the neck and back
Strong core muscles are important for horses and humans alike
A strong core helps to support and protect the back. For a horse, this is of particular importance. To carry a rider comfortably, a horse needs to have properly developed muscles on both sides of his spine, which occurs in part when he lifts his back by engaging his core.
To understand this from your horse’s point of view try this exercise: On your hands and knees, with your hands directly beneath your shoulders and your knees aligned under your hips, round your back by pulling your core in toward your spine (yoga cat stretch). Have a friend place their palms on your back and push down gently. Can you feel how your back easily supports this weight? Next, allow your core muscles to sag down toward the ground like a hammock. Have your friend perform the same exercise. How much more difficult is it to bear the weight?
Core strengthening can be a beneficial part of regular training and conditioning. The idea behind these exercises is to strengthen the muscles that control the horse’s posture. In addition, they will aid to stabilize the thoracic spine and pelvis and abdominal musculature. Be sure to consult your veterinarian before beginning any of these exercises with your horse, specifically if he has a history of musculoskeletal injury or neurological disease.
TWO SIMPLE CORE STRENGTHENERS
1. With your horse standing square, stand next to him behind the elbow. Gently grab the pectoral muscles in the middle of his chest. As you squeeze your fingers in and out, he should respond by lifting through the sternum to round the withers.
2. Next, apply pressure in the mid girth area, and push up. Your horse will lift his mid back from the withers down to the end of the thoracic spine (mid back). You can travel the length of the belly stretching the entire thoracic musculature.
Contraction of these muscles will flatten his back. This position can be done daily up to 10 times with 10-second holds per contracture.
Strengthening your horse’s neck can also be incorporated to help the flexibility of the cervical musculature which can aid in the strengthening of his core.
1. While standing next to your horse, show him a carrot. Encourage his nose to follow the carrot as your arm travels along his side. See if you can get his nose to his stifle and hold for 10 seconds. Then go to the point of his hip and hold for 10 seconds. Do not go past his limit. Repeat 5-10 times on each side (and be sure to reward him with the carrot!)
2. While standing next to your horse, show him the carrot between his legs. When he bends down, encourage him to reach for the carrot while you draw it back. This is a great stretch for his neck and withers.
When we ask horses to engage their cores while in motion (either riding or on the longe line), the core muscles activate to help stabilize the spine ... think Pilates for horses. Experienced riders are able to use their aids correctly to produce this effect. Books and videos are available to help riders who need guidance asking the horse to use its core. These exercises are a great place to start and your horse will thank you for it!
Dr. Michael Burak, DC, CVP, is a Certified Equine Chiropractor and Adjunct Professor at Delaware Valley College’s Department of Equine Science and Management. www.drmikeburak.com
Stephanie Barberra is a Level II Centered Riding Instructor at the Department of Equine Science and Management, Delaware Valley College.