Since most of our riding has been limited recently, I’m sure everyone is eager to get back in the saddle. Even if there aren’t any riding events or competitions to get back into shape for. Since most of us have a little extra time on our hands, and riding arenas are closed, this is a perfect time to focus on strengthening our horses imbalances...'SIX_PACK' here we come!
Like most athletes, a STRONG CORE is crucial for the longevity of the athlete as well as PERFORMANCE and the EQUINE ATHLETE this is no different! The infamous BELLY LIFTS can be awesome for building that CORE and stretching the horses TOPLINE. It is best to start small so that your horse doesn’t compensate when his or her abdominal muscles begin to tire/fatigue. No one likes sloppy sit ups that aren't going to get you your abs of steel!
For most clients (horses) I recommend starting with 5-10 repetitions of BELLY LIFTS, REST, and then 5-10 more BELLY LIFTS. As your riding parter gets stronger add more repetitions and then more sets.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with BELLY LIFTS, there are a few different techniques. Begin with placing fingers behind the horses elbow, reaching up so they are sitting between the horses pectoral muscles (right between the front legs), pointing up toward the withers. Gently, as little pressure as you can but as much as you need to, push up so the horse ENGAGES his CORE and LIFTS his back. Slowly run your fingers on the line of the belly back toward the belly button. When you do this you should be able to see the ABDOMINAL muscles ENGAGE and his BACK LIFT UP. My goal when I do this is to MOVE SLOWLY and ask them to HOLD for a few seconds, 2-3. We don’t want your horse to jerk up their back or jump around nervously. These are a super great exercise while GROOMING, before and after your ride.
If you have the opportunity to lunge or do groundwork with your horse, GROUND POLES can be a super easy way to keep them in SHAPE and ENGAGE the CORE. Do not be afraid to lunge on a circle with UNEVEN POLES. This helps to ENGAGE the CORE, increase BALANCE and help with PROPRIOCEPTION. Lunging over cavalletties or free jumping are both productive ways to keep your horse in shape while we are not riding them, for any riding discipline! Play around, have some fun, changing it up can be great for both you and your horse, physically and mentally!
Equus Physio encourages everyone to use this time positively to focus on the stretching and exercise program your body worker has designed specifically for your horse. These are useful ways to make progress without even having to get back in the saddle! When life gets back to normal, and we can begin riding again, if you are consistent with the above, I think you will find your horses feeling refreshed and even better than before the break.
Tess Wise, EEBW
Please reach out to Cochrane based equine physio team if you have any questions about the above blog. We are here to help!