Why You and Your Horse need a Core Conditioning Program

Why you and your horse need a core conditioning programme.

Horse riding is a partnership. While horses are big animals, you have a massive impact on them while in the saddle. Horse-rider interactions have been studied at all levels and the results are in – both members of your horse-rider partnership need a strong core.

What happens when the rider has a weak core?

When you are stronger through your core (and more experienced – but this comes through time in the saddle over anything else) you are better at staying central in the saddle and maintaining a symmetrical riding position [1,4-6]. This means you place even pressure on your horse’s back and can apply clearer aids (win-win!).

If you have a weak core, you are likely to sit asymmetrically. Think how quickly you get tired of sitting up straight at your desk and it’s no wonder we struggle to stay straight on a moving animal. Your horse will struggle to move through their full range of motion in their back, and as a result you may see poor performance, a poor topline and the onset of back pain or lameness [1-5,7].

Think about the last time you filled up water buckets. It’s much easier to carry one on each side even if they are heavier in total because they are balanced. When you are only carrying one bucket your body gets pulled to one side, your stride changes to compensate and it’s seriously hard work!

Horses are prey animals, so they’ve evolved to be really good at hiding when they are in pain. This makes it really easy to miss back pain. Key things to look for are…

·       Lack of impulsion

·       Shortened stride

·       Changes in behaviour

·       Poor performance

If you notice any of these symptoms in your horse (particularly in sitting trot or with heavier riders) it’s important to rule out any pain. Your physiotherapist or vet can provide treatment and get your horse feeling themselves again.

How can I help my horse with back pain?

There are a few things that might be prescribed to help your horse recover from back pain…

·       Rest from ridden work – This can allow your horse to balance out again and prevent any further damage.

·      Improving rider symmetry – Working your core can help prevent any issues resurfacing (more on this shortly). [12]

·       Laser – Works to block pain signals and restore normal movement.

·      Massage – Reduces tension and increases blood flow, promotes healing, flushes out toxins and releases happy hormones like oxytocin.

·       TENS – Acts to reduce pain by sending signals up the spinal cord.

·       Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy – Helps remove toxins by balancing the contents of the cells, and reduces pain signals.

If you’d like a good place to start then why not treat you and your horse to a massage? You’ll both feel more balanced and pain free!

We look forward to seeing you soon!

Why you and your horse need a core conditioning programme Part 2: Horse Core Exercises

How do I know if my horse has a weak core?

Horse's with a weak core have what we call poor dorso-ventral balance.  This means that your horse's back and core are not working together and are instead weak.  These horse's have little or no topline muscle with a large looking belly despite them being the correct weight.  However horse's who are overweight are more prone to having a weak core and topline.  

Hence the first step in your horse's journey to a strong core is being the correct weight and being out of pain.  Then you can begin looking at core strengthening exercises.  


Horse core exercises

Just like ourselves it's important that horse's maintain a strong core to prevent back pain and to increase their sporting performance.  

If our horse’s have a weak core their ability to carry us effectively without developing back pain is compromised.  Luckily for us there are many exercises which can help improve our horse's core strength and prevent the development of back pain.  


It’s a great idea to start these exercises before ridden work when backing a young horse to ensure they’re strong enough for ridden work. 


If your horse is already in ridden work and doesn’t suffer from back pain and you’d like to keep it that way then implementing an effective core conditioning program is perfect for you and your horse.  

If your horse is new to a core fitness program or unfortunate enough to suffer with a injury or back pain ensure you speak with your vet and vet physio before implementing a core exercise program.  


So what core exercises can my horse do?

  1. Tail pulls to increase balance

  2. Ab lifts to increase ab strength

  3. Pelvic rounding to improve back motion 

  4. Wither rocks to improve balance 

  5. Pole work of any type 

  6. Working in the correct outline with hindlimb engagement 

  7. Routine changes such as feeding form the floor and increased turn out

  8. Baited stretches or carrot stretches to improve balance 


We suggest starting with ab lifts, tail pulls and wither rocks as these are the easiest exercises for your horse to perform before moving on to ridden and pole work, baited stretches and pelvic rounding which require more strength and flexibility of your horse's back and core.


To find out more check out our equine core conditioning guide. 

Horse & Rider Fitness Intensives

As part of our "Why you and your horse need a core conditioning program" series, you have the opportunity to join Zoe from Fit-Pet Physio and Seonaidh from Cherry Tree Training for a Horse-Rider Fitness intensive. 


Fitness intensives include a private equine physiotherapy session (including tack check, manual therapies, electrotherapies, a full musculoskeletal health check and a take-home exercise program), personal training session, as well as group personal training and ridden sessions.   

If you're interested in a Horse & Rider Fitness Intensive at your yard or riding school or would like some more information, please complete the form to the right giving your location and number of people interested.

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