Last Updated on March 15, 2022 by Allison Price
What is the importance of a strong core for your horse’s health?
Core stability refers to the strength of your horse’s abdominal and back muscles. Strong core stability supports your horse’s back and provides a solid foundation for his balance and movement.
Emma explains that horses must be balanced at the top and bottom to be able to function properly. This is called the “string and bow theory”. Imagine an archer’s bow representing the spine and the string the abdomen. The tighter the string, then the more springy (or spinier) the bow.
Every horse has a different core stability. However, generally speaking, the healthier and fitter a horse is, the greater his core stability. Emma says that horse strength is affected by age, shape, and soundness. Emma explains that horses with long backs will require stronger core muscles to resist the pull of gravity.
Older horses may be weaker in core strength. The ligaments that hold the bones together can stretch as we age. This makes it more difficult to contract the muscles and causes the “sway back” posture. Lame horses might not push equally on all four legs, which can lead to muscle imbalance.
A strong core can reduce your horse’s chance of injury. He’ll be able to control his joints during trips and slips, and will also be able to handle a rider who over-stresses joints, tendons, and ligaments.
Emma suggests that you can simply test your horse’s core stability by gently leaning against him. Is your horse able to push against you? Does he need to shift his weight to balance himself? Is it different for each side?
The goal of core stability development is to improve your horse’s strength, function, and coordination of all his pelvic-stabiliser and abdominal muscles.
Core stability exercises: Practical uses
Strong core muscles will improve the horse’s posture and can also be used to exercise children before backing. They can also help strengthen the hollow back muscles of horses who have been riding with poorly fitting tack. After a long rest or box rest, core exercises can be done to improve the appearance of sagging abdomens. It will also help prevent sagging from colic surgery. However, this should only begin after consulting your vet. The same goes for improving core stability following spine surgery. This should be done after your vet has checked you.
Four core stability exercises
Before you do any new exercises with your horse, make sure to consult your vet.
1. Tummy lifts
For 15-20 seconds, apply firm pressure to the area where your horse’s girth is in the middle of the chest. This will encourage your horse to stretch through his back, ribs and core muscles. You can do this before and after riding and it will give you an indication of how mobile or stiff his spine is.
This pressure should not cause discomfort. Horses may be very sensitive to this pressure and might bite or kick.
2. Carrot neck stretches
To prevent your horse from falling, you must ask him to bend on one side or the other. These stretches increase range of motion in the spine joints and activate the muscles that stabilize these joints.
These stretches should be done in a controlled area such as your horse’s stable. He won’t have much space to move around and can grab the treat. To make it more difficult for him to reach the treat, you can stand with your back against his shoulder. Next, ask your horse to bend over you to get the treat. Keep it away from his mouth and move it according to the steps below. These five movements should be performed five times per week on your horse’s left- and right sides.
- From the neck to the shoulder
- From the nose to the girth
- Suffocate your nose
- Hocks, hocks, hocks
- Do not touch your front fetlocks.
Be careful that your horse does not’mug’ for treats or snatch at you. Carrots are great because they’re long enough to protect your hands! You can keep your child interested by allowing them to have a treat at the end.
3. Tail pulls
Holding your horse’s tail down below the dock, stand to his side and gently pull to make him balance against you. The pull will cause your horse’s abdomen and stifle/thigh muscles to contract. Gently release the horse after a 10-second hold. Repeat this process every day while grooming.
4. Hands-on use of raised walk poles
Place a row about one metre apart of trotting poles flat on the ground. Encourage your horse to walk at a steady pace and encourage him to cross each pole. Every time your horse picks up his heels, his core muscles will be engaged.
To make your horse step higher, you can raise either one or both ends of the pole by raising them four inches above the ground. This exercise should be done at least twice per week.