Common sense says it’s better to prevent back pain than to treat the back after it starts to hurt. Now it appears there could be an effective way to do this for our horses through simple, but specific, exercises.

Chartered equine physical therapist and equitation scientist Gillian Tabor, MSc, ResM candidate, presented the results of recent supporting research at the 8th International Society of Equitation Science conference, held July 18-20 in Edinburgh, Scotland.

According to Tabor, who completed the research with Hayley Randle, PhD, equitation science researcher at Duchy College in Cornwall, U.K., strengthening a horse’s multifidus muscle through a short-term physiotherapeutic exercise program could yield long-term benefits in preventing equine back pain. Nestled around the vertebral column, the multifidus muscle controls and supports spinal movement and protects it from injury.

"Given that back pain is relatively common in riding horses, affecting a varying percent of horses in each discipline–including up to 40% of dressage horses–we have to really consider not only the welfare but also the economic implications of having a horse that can’t race or compete," Tabor said.

To investigate multifidus muscle development through her exercise regimen in active horses, Tabor and colleagues studied 12 Thoroughbred racehorses (at least 3 years old) over a period of 12 weeks. Half the horses received multifidus muscle-targeted exercise five days each week in addition to their regular training schedule, whereas the other half received their regular training only. The researchers monitored the size of the horse