Book Review: ‘Core Conditioning for Horses: Yoga-Inspired Warm-Up Techniques’

By Visconte Simon Cocozza.

In “Core Conditioning for Horse: Yoga-Inspired Warm-Up Techniques,” Visconte Simon Cocozza sets up a valid justification for using yoga-based strengthening exercises to strengthen your horse’s core muscles.

The text begins by establishing a solid history of how horses have been used and how their training for those uses has played a role in developing their core strength. Although this is a topic that can be seen as somewhat dry, Cocozza interweaves some light-hearted observations throughout to keep it readable.

For instance, in discussing the inherent problems of humans sitting on the weakest point of the horse’s back, Cocozza writes, “Every design has its purpose and its limits, its strong and weak points, and when we sit on a horse’s back we exceed the natural design capabilities… and this changes the horse’s posture. Oops” (pp. 14 – 15).

As he moves into setting up the benefits of yoga-based exercises, Cocozza also gives a thorough explanation of what each each group of core muscles does, which helps the reader understand why each exercise helps develop the horse’s core. For someone like me, who needs to know the purpose of a task or exercise before I can complete it competently — or attempt to complete it competently — this structure is especially helpful. However, for readers who have less patience for an inclusive introduction, this may get tedious.

Cocozza operates on the assumption that horses need similar training as humans and elaborates on that by explaining why we warm up: “… if a horse is to be ridden well he must be sufficiently warmed up through the whole body, most particularly the core, or we will not see his best” (p. 70).

Overall, Cocozza is thorough in his introduction and lead-in to the actual exercises and how to approach them. This does make the text somewhat front-heavy. However, if read diligently, the reader will come away with a solid understanding of how these exercises can benefit both horses and their riders.

When addressing how to approach the 10 exercises, Cocozza provides readers with the tools to assess their horse’s core strength and determine the level at which each exercise should be attempted. He breaks down core strength assessment into five different indicators:

  1. Rideability
  2. Suppleness
  3. Soundness
  4. Head, Neck and Mouth
  5. The Ridden Mindset

Together, these indicators help readers determine their horse’s Core Score.

Of course, as I read, I scored my own horse. Cocozza sets up the reader to accurately score their horse’s score and prepare them for the exercises he describes. Once a reader has determined her/his horse’s Core Score, Cocozza offers four different exercise plans based on that score. Each plan offers suggestions on which exercises to do and at what level.

Cocozza doesn’t get to the actual exercises until page 131. Arguably, those looking for instant gratification could jump directly to the exercises. However, the build up to the exercises is well worth the read. Without the first part of the book, the reader would miss out on the knowledge of how best to approach these exercises and why.

When Cocozza goes through each of the 10 exercises outlined in the text, he does an excellent job of breaking down and explaining each step. For each exercise he includes

  • the human yoga counterpart
  • what it does for humans
  • what it does for horses
  • what body parts are engaged
  • what issues under saddle are addressed
  • what it does for the inside of a horse
  • what level of exercise should be performed based on the horse’s Core Score
  • a description and pictures of what the exercise should look like
  • a diagram to help to help choose a floor plan in the arena
  • common issues and how to address them
  • the ultimate goal of the exercise

Throughout the book, Cocozza includes success stories from riders who have used his core exercises with their horses. These inspiring asides are narrative, interesting and support Cocozza’s method.

One of the aspects of the book I really enjoyed were the Easter eggs sprinkled throughout. There were a few Lucasian references — George, not Henry — that made me smile. It’s the little things, right?

Overall, I believe Cocozza sets up readers for success with their horses. I look forward to enacting the exercise plan with my horse and foresee a lot of arena dirt ground into the binding of my copy, as I’ll need it with me for a reference while I ride.

Happy reading, Horse Nation. Go riding. And, in the words of Visconte Simon Cocozza, “May your horse be with you” (p. 290).

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