Dynamic Mobilization Exercises Activate the Sport Horse's Core

Anyone who has pilates classes knows how it strengthens your "core" muscles, but did you know similar stretches and exercises can also strengthen and condition your horse? Hilary Clayton, BVMS, PhD, MRCVS, Mary Anne McPhail Dressage Chair in Equine Sports Medicine at Michigan State University, discussed the importance of dynamic mobilization exercises to condition and strengthen athletic horses and increase their range of motion at A Winning Edge: Promoting Peak Performance in Equine Athletes, a horse owner seminar held on Sept. 24 in Lexington, Ky.

According to Clayton, core strength (of the muscles that support and move the neck, vertebrae, ribcage, and sternum) improves control of horses' neck and back movements, allows the horse to generate propulsion more effectively, and protects against back injuries. The core-strengthening dynamic mobilization exercises that Clayton is a proponent of are a series of baited stretches and stimulated movements performed from the ground, preferably in a safe enclosed area.

"The horse follows a controlled movement pattern that stretches the neck and back and strengthens muscles used in performance," she explained. Baited stretches include enticing the horse to bring his chin to his chest, knees, front fetlocks, girth, flank, or hock and holding the position for several seconds.<

Based on studies conducted by Clayton, effects of these exercises include:

  • Increased range of motion of intervertebral joints to a degree than cannot be achieved under saddle; and
  • Strengthening of the muscles that move and stabilize the back during locomotion.

These exercises are particularly useful in young horses preparing for work under saddle; in horses that are returning to work after a layoff; in high level competition horses that are required to perform collected work; and in horses as rehabilitation after colic surgery (talk to your veterinarian first and wait one month after surgery to start the exercises).

Furthermore, said Clayton, "We think dynamic mobilization exercises reactivate deep back muscles in horses with a history of back pain, so they play a role both in prevention and treatment of back problems and spinal arthritis."

Clayton says each stretch should be done three to five times a day. The exercises are beneficial before exercise to stimulate muscle activation and after exercise for stretching. As an added benefit, they don't require expensive equipment or sophisticated riding skills, but they can be used by any horse owner who wants to strengthen and condition his or her athletes' muscles.

"Use caution in horses with ataxia (incoordination) and lameness," warns Clayton. "These exercises also are valuable during rehab, but first talk to your veterinarian and wait until the appropriate stage of healing."

For more information on pilates for horses from Clayton, see a feature article we ran on the subject.

About the Author

Alexandra Beckstett, The Horse Managing Editor

Alexandra Beckstett, Managing Editor of The Horse and a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as Assistant Editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse.

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