Strengthening your horse’s core will not only support your horses back and reduce your horse’s risk of injury but is at the foundation of developing a supple, flexible and balanced equine athlete.
Every horse is physically different, and factors such as age and conformation will affect your horse’s core stability. As with any new schooling exercise, start small and slow and build up gradually, monitoring your horses’ attitude and ability with each.
What You Need:
Max Of Seven Poles
Start with three poles in a straight line. Lay them out to suit your horse’s stride. Ride your horse in trot over these, keeping the rhythm and straightness throughout this exercise. As your horse becomes physically stronger, you can add more poles (maximum of seven). Your horse may knock the poles so having someone on the ground who can readjust the poles the correct stride length for your horse is essential. Ride on both reins and aim to ride over the centre of the poles at all times.
On My Own
If you don’t have a helper on the ground, lay single poles around the arena, so that if your horse knocks a pole, you won’t need to adjust it. Putting poles in each corner of the arena will encourage your horse to step up and under, flex his joints and engage his core. Once you have established this work in the trot, try in canter. Maintain control and rhythm.
If you are doing groundwork with your horse, place a row of trotting poles around 1 metre apart* and either long-rein or lunge them in walk over each pole. Aim for straightness and establish a good rhythm. Then raise the poles onto small pole pods and repeat. This simple exercise will engage your horse’s core muscles every time he steps over a pole. You can also make this exercise more complex by alternating the raised poles.
This exercise can be ridden in trot or canter. Set up four poles into a square, (Approx. 10 yards apart from each other for trot and 12 yards for canter*). Start on your horse’s better rein and establish your trot or canter, going large. Once you have a good even tempo, ride around the square a couple of times on the outside of the poles, riding as close to the square as you dare!
Go large then come to the square and use your outside leg to ask your horse to step into the poles. Remember to use your half-halt and guide him with your inside rein and ride collected twice around the square then half-halt and ask your horse to step out of the square and continue. Open up the pace after the collection work going large. Repeat this exercise and then change the rein and ride again.
Riding transitions is a simple way to engage your horses’ core and strengthen his hind legs. Start by riding direct transitions at a series of markers around your school. Focus on the transition’s quality by riding the horse forward into the new pace for four steps then into the next. Your aim is to keep the horse up through his core, sitting on his hindquarters (rather than falling onto his forehand during the transition) and together. After a few, you should start to feel the difference in your horse.
Once you have ridden your direct transitions, try riding transitions within the pace; collecting the trot for a few strides and then returning to working trot or medium and then working trot and collected.
Play with the tempo within the pace. Depending on your horse’s training and age, this exercise can be ridden in walk, trot and canter.
As with all these exercises, take time to build up slowly and give your horse plenty of walk rest breaks in-between and take time to warm-up and cool down properly.
*These are suggested placement lengths but always check and adjust accordingly to the suggested pole placement to suit your horse and the level of difficulty within the exercise. The RDA have a great guide for setting out pole distances.