4-ways-to-improve-your-horses-core-strength

4 Ways to Improve Your Horse’s Core Strength

There’s more to a horse’s condition than too fat or too thin, and taking time to work on your horse’s core strength and topline will bring a range of benefits; from improved rideability to greater success at competitions and reduced susceptibility to injuries. 

The ‘core’ is often thought of as just the tummy muscles, but your horse’s core is a lot more than that. Core strength comes from the muscles surrounding both the back and abdomen. A strong core will help support your horse’s pelvis, spine and back, keeping them free from niggles while helping them perform at their very best. 

The good news is that you can improve your horse’s core strength from both the ground and saddle. Try these exercises to get your horse in tip top shape for the restart of the season. 

 

 

Pole Work

Pole work is a great way to improve your horse’s core, whether you’re in the saddle or working in hand. It’s a great way to gently build condition from the ground if your horse has been out of work, plus it can help with rideability if you work them under saddle. 

Pole work is highly effective because it encourages the horse to drop its head and lift their core – a bit like a reverse sit up. It’ll also increase flexion of the hind limbs, helping them build muscle behind which further improves core strength and strengthens topline. 

Walking over poles can be even more beneficial than trotting or cantering, as the horse cannot use momentum and must recruit core and back muscles to step over the poles cleanly. Once your horse is confident, try raising alternate ends of the poles, and finally the entire pole. This can be done in hand, with a lunge line, using long reins, or under saddle. 

Hill Work

Tackling hills out hacking is one of the best ways to get your horse physically fit and improve your horse’s strength. When travelling both up and down hills, your horse has to use core strength to stabilise himself while pushing from the backend. 

It is very hard for a horse to get to the top of the hill if they slop along on the forehand, so hill work is perfect if you struggle to get your horse working from behind – as the hill does the work for you! 

Start off slowly if your horse lacks physical fitness, and build up to tackling hill work a few times a week. Combine this with schooling your horse out hacking and you should see huge improvements to your horse’s condition and strength. 

Backing Up

Another exercise that can be done both from the ground and under saddle is backing up, or rein back. Asking your horse to walk backwards will bring the hind legs underneath him and activate his core muscles. 

In hand, apply pressure to your horse’s chest to encourage him to step back, and praise him when he does. Start with small amounts of rein back, trying to keep your horse’s head low. As your horse gets more confident he’ll need less pressure to encourage him to step backwards, and you can also practice more steps.

Once your horse has mastered it on the ground, you can try it under saddle. Ask for a halt, then move your legs slightly behind the girth and lighten your seat. Give a squeeze with the legs and contain the forward momentum with a squeeze on the reins. Once your horse has stepped backwards, praise him. Try to keep your horse in a straight line, using an arena wall to help you if needed. 

Pole Work

Pole work is a great way to improve your horse’s core, whether you’re in the saddle or working in hand. It’s a great way to gently build condition from the ground if your horse has been out of work, plus it can help with rideability if you work them under saddle. 

Pole work is highly effective because it encourages the horse to drop its head and lift their core – a bit like a reverse sit up. It’ll also increase flexion of the hind limbs, helping them build muscle behind which further improves core strength and strengthens topline. 

Walking over poles can be even more beneficial than trotting or cantering, as the horse cannot use momentum and must recruit core and back muscles to step over the poles cleanly. Once your horse is confident, try raising alternate ends of the poles, and finally the entire pole. This can be done in hand, with a lunge line, using long reins, or under saddle. 

horse-carrot-stretch

Carrot Stretches

Carrot stretches are a great way to activate core muscles and they can be done either before or after work, although if your horse is especially stiff we recommend warming them up first. Carrot stretches can be done in the stable which makes them exceptionally easy, plus they’re generally suitable for horses who are out of work (although we recommend checking with your own physio or vet). 

Use a carrot or treat to encourage your horse to stretch down with their head between their front legs. Allow him to stretch as far as he is comfortable and hold for 10 seconds. If your horse finds it difficult, make the stretch less intense. 

Next, encourage the horse to reach round to the side towards his hip. The aim is for your horse to keep his head vertical but this may take a bit of practise. Aim for a smooth stretch, holding for 10 seconds on each side.