Exercises and Exercise Recovery Options for Horses in Training


horsewoman lunging her horse in the round pen for training

Horses are kept for a purpose, though the purpose differs for every owner. Almost all the purposes of keeping a horse involve physical movement. That is why the most important part of horse care is exercise. In the horse's body, different muscles serve different purposes, and it is important to exercise each muscle to prevent any damage or injury during the activity. Dressage riders may fail to activate the right muscle for the right act. The failure to activate the right muscle leads to limited flexion, damage, or joint stiffness. These are undesired and counterproductive phenomena. Therefore, there is a dire need to understand the right exercises for your horse to deliver whatever you require of them.


What is the importance of training my horse?

horse athlete training muscle groups

While you are focused on training your horse, you should make sure that you train and strengthen the correct muscles for the activity he preforms. Mostly, people tend to train their horses by strengthening their top lines and hindquarters to ensure they take a big gait. However, they ignore that there are finely controlled muscle groups, called postural muscles, that can be more helpful for their horses. Postural muscles, for example, the multifidi group of muscles that are located close to the vertebrae or pelvis, are one of the important muscle groups and are very helpful in the extensive training of horses.


Extensive training requires a change in muscle patterns and muscle memory, and it can be greatly achieved by targeting intrinsic muscles. The intrinsic muscles located around the spine and joints play a significant role in changing muscle patterns and memory. These intrinsic muscles have the basic function of supporting the big locomotory muscles. But the thing that is commonly forgotten is that they are richly supplied with nerves and neural pathways. You can say that they store the language of movement of your horse. With proper training, you can achieve a change in muscle pattern and muscle memory.


Exercises for Your Horse in Training

Six exercises are mentioned in this section that can be really helpful in the proper training of your horse. What you need to do is to implement any two or three of the mentioned exercises to help your horse become a better athlete. A 10-minute warm-up exercise each day before your regular riding session can make significant changes in your horse.


Equine Training Exercise 1

man doing Masterson method on horse for exercise and stretching
Photo credit: Masterson Method

This exercise aims to target vertebrae of the neck, atlas, and poll. This exercise is from the Masterson Method. You need to stand near the head of your horse and softly place your left-hand fingers on his nose. Locate the area behind and below a hand’s width of ear and place the right hand there. You should ensure that you are placing your fingers as gently as possible. After that, perform a wiggle from side to side on the nose for a few wiggles. Your horse may try to release this tension himself. You can allow room for him to adjust. If you observe your horse feeling uncomfortable when you continue to wiggle, it is due to the tension in postural muscles. You don't need to stop; instead, you can keep on wiggling but with shorter wiggles from side to side. The softer movement can help your horse release the tension without the uncomfortable feeling and can help him relax.


Equine Training Exercise 2

Masterson Method performed on a horse for tension release
Photo credit: Dressage Today

The second exercise is also a Masterson Method exercise. It focuses on the entire spine from the sacrum to the poll. For this exercise, you must stand at your horse's hind end but not directly behind the horse. Remember to keep your body and especially your arms in a relaxed position. After that, you need to place your right hand right above the base of the tail. You need to gently push and pull with your right palm to create a wiggling motion from the sacrum. This will move the whole body in a wave-like motion. You will begin to notice the movement reaching your horse's head. Your horse will continue to swing in a wave-like rhythm as you continue. This exercise should be repeated for at least two minutes. Exercise 1 and exercise 2 are meant to make warm-up the postural muscles and release the tension. The following exercises will help your horse prepare for regular riding and help you change muscle patterns.


Equine Training Exercise 3

With the above-mentioned exercises, your horse has released tension in not-so-used muscles. Now your horse is ready to develop new muscle patterns that you can achieve through corrective exercises mentioned in this section. These exercises are meant for a slower portion of your warm-up before the regular riding. Exercise 3 uses sensory re-education paths, which have now become popular in horse training facilities. This special technique gained importance because it targets the horse's ability to become better aware of the body. This is called proprioception, which, once developed, enhances the smoothness and fluidity of the motion.

walking horse through grass can increase proprioception

For this exercise, you need different segments of surfaces such as pebbles, grass, firm ground, sand, and water. Your horse needs to move through each of the segments. Each segment should be at least 3 meters long, and your horse must move through these segments for 30 meters. This method wakes up the neuroreceptors of the horse that have not been awoken earlier. It will help deliver mobility to areas of the body that have been in use earlier.

horse with kinesiology tape on his back for proprioception

You can also support proprioception by using complementary methods such as kinesiology tape. The tape can be placed along different parts of the body to help the horse feel different regions. Placing the tape along the legs can help the horse feel where his legs are or placing the tape along the shoulders can help him feel his movement in the shoulders. Kinesiology tape can also support the muscle groups, tendons and ligaments in the body.


Equine Training Exercise 4

cowboy riding horse up a hill to train horse

You need to use a ditch or hill at your facility for this exercise. It requires a coordinated movement of the front and hind end to cross a ditch. Take a steep downhill drop and climb up. The size of the ditch should be appropriate so that your horse takes only six to eight steps to cover the entire ditch. Fine body coordination and balance adjustment are required to cover these kinds of ditches. This exercise will help your horse adjust the movements and uplifting of the base of the head and the pelvic stability. You can easily fix the one-sidedness of your horse with this exercise. In this exercise, your horse needs to push off both his hind legs, which will help you recover from one-sidedness.


Equine Training Exercise 5

This exercise focuses on the intervertebral joints, including the hip joints. Exercise 5 includes sideways movements that help involve small muscles of the body. These small muscles are involved in stabilizing the movement by supporting the large muscles. Sideways movements will require the rearrangement of neuromuscular coordination, which can be achieved by a simple exercise of turning on the forehand. This simple exercise mobilizes the rib cage. The movement of the rib cage, in turn, triggers the muscle chain connecting the abdominal area to the jaw and tongue. You can perform the exercise mounted or from the ground. You need your horse to make three 360-degree turns in both directions.


Equine Training Exercise 6

Different rehab and training facilities are using routine ground pole (or cavalletti) exercises. This exercise helps your horse correct neurological misfiring. This kind of exercise is helpful in the stabilization of muscles and altering patterned movements. Other benefits of pole exercises include:

  • Increased balance and flexibility

  • Proprioception

  • Improves coordination and responsiveness

  • Increases range of motion in the limbs

  • Encourages stride lengthening and better collection

  • Engages the muscles in the back, hindquarters, and topline

You can perform this exercise in different ways. One of the arrangements is a snake over the pole. In this case, you need to place 6-8 poles on the ground connecting end to end. You can place them touching the ground or raise them up to a height of 8 inches. You need to ride a tight serpentine in slow motion back and forth across the line of poles. You should make short loops and remain close to the poles.

cavalletti exercises for equines in training
Photo credit: Horse Journals

How can equine acupressure be helpful?

Acupressure is the application of a certain amount of pressure over particular points of the body. These points, called acupoints, are responsible for maintaining the flow of the energy called "Chi." Traditional Chinese medicine tells us that the flow of energy through the 14 channels or meridians is essential to keep the body at its optimum state. When this flow is disrupted, the body faces an abnormality or a disease.

equine acupressure practitioner touching acupoints on the horse

Acupressure can be helpful and supportive for horses in training. Acupressure will help maintain your horse's health and optimum potential so that he can perform his exercises without interruption. Several studies have proved the following benefits of acupressure

  • Increases blood flow to the areas of healing

  • Improved digestion