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6 Exercises for Horses in Training Plus Therapies to Aid Exercise Recovery

Updated: Apr 3


horsewoman lunging her horse in the round pen for training

In the world of equestrian pursuits, horses serve various purposes for their owners, each tied to the fundamental element of physical movement. Whether it's for performance, recreation, or companionship, the essence of keeping a horse lies in understanding and harnessing their inherent need for exercise. In the intricate anatomy of a horse, different muscles play distinct roles, making it imperative to engage in targeted exercises that encompass the entire musculature. Similar to the challenges faced by dressage riders who must activate precise muscles for specific actions, failure to do so can result in limited flexion, damage, or joint stiffness—undesirable outcomes that hinder progress and well-being.


Recognizing the nuanced requirements of your horse's musculoskeletal system is paramount. This blog is your guide to unraveling the complexities of equine exercise, offering insights into the right workouts to activate, strengthen, and harmonize your horse's muscles. As we navigate the landscape of horse care, our focus extends beyond mere physical activity; it's about fostering a deep understanding of your horse's anatomy and tailoring exercises to prevent injuries and promote overall health. Join us on this journey of equine well-being, where the right exercises pave the way for a purposeful and thriving partnership with your four-legged companion.


Unlocking the Hidden Potential: The Importance of Targeted Muscle Training in Equine Development

horse athlete training muscle groups

Training your horse is crucial for various reasons, and it goes beyond just enhancing the physical appearance or gait. The significance of training lies in developing a strong and functional partnership between you and your horse, ensuring both physical and mental well-being. One aspect of training that deserves attention is the targeted strengthening of specific muscle groups, particularly the often-overlooked postural muscles.


Many horse owners tend to focus on strengthening the top lines and hindquarters, aiming for an impressive gait. However, the importance of postural muscles, such as the multifidi group located near the vertebrae or pelvis, cannot be overstated. These muscles are instrumental in maintaining balance, coordination, and overall stability in the horse.


When engaging in extensive training, it's essential to consider the need for a shift in muscle patterns and the development of muscle memory. This transformation can be effectively achieved by concentrating on intrinsic muscles surrounding the spine and joints. These intrinsic muscles not only provide support to larger locomotory muscles but also play a pivotal role in altering muscle patterns and memory.


What is often forgotten is the rich nerve supply and neural pathways within these intrinsic muscles. They serve as the repository of your horse's "language of movement." Proper training directed at these intrinsic muscles can bring about a profound change in muscle patterns and memory. This means that, through targeted exercises, you are not only strengthening your horse physically but also refining its ability to move with precision and control.


In essence, training your horse is a holistic endeavor that goes beyond surface-level aesthetics. It involves understanding and harnessing the potential of postural and intrinsic muscles, unlocking a more profound level of communication and coordination between you and your equine companion. By recognizing the importance of these often-neglected muscle groups, you pave the way for a more balanced, agile, and responsive horse, contributing to both its well-being and the success of your training efforts.


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

walking horse through grass can increase proprioception

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.


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

Importance of Using Acupressure in Their Training Routine

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

  • Stronger immune system

  • Decreasing high blood pressure

  • Increase the sense of happiness and wellbeing


In addition to maintaining health for complementary and preventative care, an acupressure practitioner can use specific points on the body for the entire musculoskeletal system of the body. Some of the benefits are listed below.

  • Supporting and strengthening tendons and ligaments

  • Encouraging the increase of nutrients to regions of the body

  • Supporting the bones in the body

  • Easing sore muscles

  • Increasing lymphatic drainage

  • Strengthening muscles


Importance of Using Red Light Therapy in Their Training Routine

Red light therapy is one of the alternative medicine approaches involving red or infrared wavelengths of light to manage many problems. Red light therapy, in the form of photopuncture, works almost on the same principle as acupressure. Red light therapy improves the flow of life energy "Chi" in the body by a different method of stimulation. For an equine red light therapy practitioner, it works like a non-invasive needle.

equine red light therapy practitioner using red light for photopuncture

Light is itself a form of energy, and when the body's cells absorb the light energy, they channel it to other forms. The potential benefits of red light therapy for horses in training are as follows.

  • It increases the healing potential of body cells.

  • It increases the levels of serotonin which help reduce exercise inflammation.

  • It stimulates vasodilation to improve blood circulation to areas of need.

  • It triggers the formation of ATPs in the body.

  • It helps your horse to relax his muscles.

  • It stimulates endorphin release for natural pain relief from sore muscles.

  • It encourages tissue regeneration for muscle repair.

Conclusion

In conclusion, horses, often kept for various equestrian pursuits, thrive when their potential for activity is maximized. Tailoring training exercises to specific purposes is essential in optimizing their performance. The exercises highlighted earlier specifically target postural muscles—a crucial aspect often overshadowed in traditional strength training.


Recognizing the significance of postural muscles is pivotal as they not only provide support to larger muscle groups but also play a key role in reshaping muscle patterns and memory. Investing in the exercise and development of these muscles contributes significantly to the overall well-being and functionality of the horse.


Moreover, a holistic approach to equine care involves pairing rigorous exercises with effective recovery options. Much like humans, horses experience sore muscles, emphasizing the importance of providing pain relief to facilitate a swift return to work. By integrating thoughtful exercises with proper recovery strategies, you not only enhance your horse's physical prowess but also promote a quicker journey towards stronger muscles and a healthier overall body

horse show jumping after extensive training

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