The Olympic dressage riders shows us how you can use your body to influence the horse, improving the horse’s reaction
- Treatments by a therapist are only the beginning — follow them up with exercises at home and you’ll be amazed with the results. Veterinary physiotherapist Hayley Marsh offers a variety of horse core strengthening exercises to do at home in between treatments using polework.
To increase the range of motion of the limbs and joints, engage the hindquarters, increase stride length and core stability, and improve balance and proprioception (the sense of position and movement). The following exercises can be done under saddle, in-hand, on the lunge or in long-reins.
The horse core strengthening exercises
1. Raised poles
Set out six poles in a line, spaced so that there is one footfall between each pole, and work through them in walk first, followed by trot once you’ve amended the distance. Next, raise alternate ends of the poles (beginning with one at a time for inexperienced horses) to about a foot to increase the range of motion in the joints. On approach, make sure that the horse is balanced and straight, and let him find his own way through the poles. Don’t hold him together.
2. The maze
Set up a maze, as in the video. Walk through in a forward, balanced walk. As you turn each corner, open your inside hand to encourage the horse to bend through his body in the direction of travel and place your inside leg behind the girth, encouraging him to step under and cross over with his hindlegs. Once set up, you can also use this exercise to walk and trot over the poles (see arrows on diagram below).
3. Fan of poles
Set out five poles in a fan shape with a foot’s width between the poles at the narrow end of the fan, and about five to six feet wide at the widest. Ask the horse to work his way through the poles in balance, ensuring he is active. Shorten and lengthen his stride depending on which line he takes over the poles. Ensure he has a slight inside bend through his body.
Important things to note
- Walk is the most effective pace to perform polework in when trying to build a horse’s core strength as there is no moment of suspension, so all movement is achieved through muscular effort
- The closer the poles are together, the more the horse has to sit back and developing his carrying capacity and, alternatively, the further they are set apart, the more the horse has to push forward to lengthen his stride — be aware that this can encourage the horse to fall onto his forehand
- Working horses over poles without a rider allows the horse to move more through his back and core, while also giving the rider the chance to see how the horse is moving
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