Ridden exercises for core strength

In my last blog post I focused on building the core stability and suppleness of the horse using various groundwork techniques and exercises which I believe is a key part of strengthening the musculature of the horse in preparation for ridden work. Once a substantial effort has been made to maintain and develop the horses core muscles and the horse is working freely the following ridden exercises will enhance the development of the muscles and add an extra dimension to training focusing on strength, conditioning suppleness and balance.

How to build the horses back- Exercises you can do at home

There are numerous ways in which the muscles of the back can be worked during ridden work which aim on building top line along with core muscles allowing the horse to remain engaged from behind which may be achieved by hill work and various exercises such as shoulder in, transitions and pole work as shown below:


One of the most often overlooked gates is the walk yet much can be achieved within this pace as the horses spine is active it works by bending flexing the structures while bending and hollowing. The range of motion is the greatest within the walk  allowing the horse to work on flexibility and muscle release.

The active walk particularly uphill encourages the engagement of the hind legs preparing the horse for more challenging work later. During the walk practice lengthening the strides within the pace encouraging the horse to stretch down while still remaining active in its movement encouraging the horse to flex to the left and right by riding long and low on a circle, this targets flexion, mobility and range of motion.


The horse within this pace has less mobility than in walk encouraging the horse to really activate the core muscles required to allow him to carry a rider efficiently if the horse can remain correct while carrying a rider this gait will help to improve strength and flexibility. Using the same exercises as in the walk will help to achieve this.

Pole work

The use of trotting poles is not only for show jumpers it can benefit any ridden horse. The use of poles increase flexion in the horses joints within the legs and increases the amount of movement in the horses back. This in turn will build all the muscles and joints aiding muscle control and coordination. Once the horse habituates to the pole work weighted boots may slowly be introduced to increase the intensity level allowing for increased muscle mass without straining the surrounding structures. For examples of pole work please visit the following link equinemechanics.com

Shoulder in and shoulder fore

The shoulder in is performed by asking for bend to the inside while travelling forwards with impulsion the horse when viewed from behind should be seen to be travelling on three tracks. These exercises are usually carried out along a rail or wall as you maintain bend while exiting a circle. The lumbo- abdominal flexion involved in the shoulder in and shoulder fore work to shorten the abdominal muscles.

Lateral work

Once shoulder in is established then you can progress to lateral work such as haunches in , leg yield and half passes however these focus on one side of the horse at a time so care must be taken to work evenly on both reins to prevent muscle asymmetry. Lateral work targets the mobility of the lumbosacral joint and engagement from behind lifting of the fore hand and activation of the multifidus muscles.

This type of exercise is essential in the rehabilitation of the horse and also as a preventative measure however these movements do increase the strain on ligaments around the hoof so these must not be done too frequently or for prolonged periods of time as injury may occur.


Canter encourages the extension and flexion of the back, however it does not have the same benefits of activating the multifidus muscles which can be hard to work and performed more efficiently in the walk and trot.

.It helps to have an understanding how the muscles work during the canter this will allow you develop a feel and gain an understanding of what is happening beneath you as you work.

The abdominal muscles contract shortening the ribcage and rounding the back which ever leg leads either one or the other oblique abdominal muscles tilt the pelvis down tucking the hind underneath the horse. The Iliopsoas muscle flexes the hip creating impulsion and flexion of the pelvis and back. The thoracic sling works to lift the forehand as you can imagine all of this work with the weight of the rider requires a lot of effort from the musculature of the horse.

Counter canter

The abdominal and sub lumbar muscles maintain position and encourage flexion in the hip while the abdomen shortens the trunk. Counter canter requires a lot of strength and should only be performed in a well established horse as it can create tension and rigidness in riding.


Canter poles or bounce jumps are effective in strengthening the thoracic sling and upper neck muscles by flexing the spine, thoracic spine and lumbosacral joint. This is an effective exercise to open up the spine but care must be taken to ensure the horse is sufficiently warmed up prior to prevent damage to the structures. The hip flexors and abdominals  are  required for propulsion for the poles or jumps challenged by the engagement required during landing in a bounce sequence.

In a nutshell….

As with all work patience is required and care must be taken to prevent overloading the associated structures preventing possible injury to the horse. Just the act of the horse carrying a rider will help him to use his back correctly and cross training is extremely important as an addition to this type of work. Ensure that your horse is well versed in the movement before increasing difficulty and intensity and remember if increasing the intensity to do this slowly and for shorter periods of time.

Just as olympian athletes train for years to finally reach their goals at the highest level the same should be adhered to with the horse. There are no shortcuts it takes an understanding of the horse at both an anatomical and emotional level however as many top class riders continue to demonstrate it takes a huge amount of dedication and committment to ensuring the horse is developed correctly. This will ensure the longevity and happiness of your best friend as well as enjoyed success in any task you undertake.

If you want to read more on the subject please visit http://www.equinemechanics.com a comprehensive guide to developing the horse.








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