In this excerpt from her book Pilates for Horses, certified Pilates instructor and eventer Laura Reiman gives us a simple exercise that specifically targets the abdominal muscles for strengthening.
The horse’s core is essential as a bridge between the front and hind end. It must be strong and supple so energy can move efficiently through the body and balance can be maintained. A strong core is also one of the most important factors for a pain-free back.
In-hand core work is a great way to strengthen your horse’s trunk—both topline and abdominals—without the weight of a rider. This is indispensable work for horses with back soreness issues or those needing to strengthen the topline without being ridden, but also for healthy horses as supplemental strengthening work. You can do these exercises before or after riding, or on rest days.
Try This: Nose Forward Reach
Also considered an incentive stretch, this exercise emphasizes core engagement by asking your horse to shift his weight forward toward a treat, without moving his feet.
- Activates the thoracic sling including the serratus ventralis, pectorals, and subclavius as well as hip/pelvis stabilizers including the gluteals, sacrocaudalis dorsalis, tensor fasciae latae, quadriceps, bicep femoris, adductors, and sartorius.
- Stretches the rectus capitis dorsalis and lateralis, multifidus cervicis, rhomboids, splenius, and trapezius.
- Increases balance and stability.
- Improves self-carriage.
- Stand in front of your horse and hold one hand gently against his chest to stop any forward steps.
- Offer a treat right in front of his nose to get his attention.
- Slowly move the treat in a straight line away from the horse, enticing him to shift his weight forward toward the treat without taking a step.
- When using a clicker, activate it 3–4 feet in front of the horse’s nose.
- Make sure your horse’s neck is straight with no tilt and the nose is pointing forward toward the incentive.
- Hold for 10 seconds to start, working up to 30 seconds over the course of several weeks.
- Repeat 2–4 times.
Every day, before or after work. Hold for 10–30 seconds and repeat 2–4 times.
- The goal is for your horse to shift his weight forward without actually stepping forward.
- Watch your feet. Your horse will most likely take a few steps before you figure out how far you can move the incentive away or how much pressure you need to keep on the chest.
- Use a treat that you can wrap your hand around so the horse can smell but not eat it immediately, and will hold his forward stretch.
- If your horse becomes nippy, especially when not asking for the stretch, spend some time training him to respond to a clicker.
- Allow your horse to be in control of the stretch—do not pull him into position or hold his nose down.
Common Issues and Precautions
- Don’t allow your horse to raise his head too high in extension or tilt his head trying to artificially reach farther forward.
- If your horse steps forward, try being slower with the movement of the treat, ask for less reach, or do this exercise over the top of a closed door to block forward movement.