Performed regularly, these three types of rehabilitation exercises can help improve your horse’s muscle function as part of a rehabilitation program following a back injury and can also improve the horse’s athletic performance and reduce the risk of future back problems.
“These are the most important and beneficial exercises an owner can do. The horse follows a controlled movement pattern to supple his intervertebral joints and, more importantly, to strengthen the muscles that move and stabilize these joints.”
Chin to chest flexes the upper neck; chin to knees and chin to fetlocks flex the lower neck and lift the back.
Chin to girth bends the neck; chin to flank bends the neck and back; and chin to hind fetlock bends the neck and back and activates the pelvic stabilizers and abdominal muscles.
Allow the horse to stretch his neck out as far as possible after the rounding and bending exercises as an unwinding exercise.
Clayton said owners can perform core training exercise at the start of or before exercise to recruit the horse’s deep stabilizing muscles. She described two of these exercises:
Apply upward pressure with a slightly noxious stimulus (e.g., a thimble on your fingertip), starting between the chest muscles and sliding slowly back along the horse’s sternum to lift the withers and the back.
Apply firm pressure to the top of the spine at the tailhead and work forward until you find the horse’s “sweet spot” that causes him to round his lumbar and lumbosacral (lower back) joints. You can also stimulate this motion by stroking down the hind quarters’ intermuscular groove, taking care to observe appropriate safety precautions if standing behind the horse.
To train a horse to balance and strengthen the muscles that connect his limbs to his body, Clayton described the following exercises, which should be repeated three to five times daily:
Apply pressure to the middle of the horse’s chest, causing him to rock backward. This backward weight shift activates the serratus muscles that support the chest between the forelimbs.
Gently pull the horse’s tail to the side to activate the pelvic stabilizer muscles that help balance and stabilize the horse during collection and lateral movements.
Lift a fore- or hind limb, and push gently on the horse’s shoulder or chest just enough to rock his weight, which activates the fore- and hind-limb stabilizers.