Good core muscle strength can give horses better vertebral stability, improving back health, performance, and welfare. But strengthening a horse’s core isn’t easy. A new study, however, suggests that a specific elastic band system designed for horses could help develop that strength.

After four weeks of training with resistance bands, horses showed less unwanted vertebral movement along the back from the withers to the croup, said Nicole Rombach, APM, MEEBW, CCBW, PG AM, MSc, PhD, president of Equinenergy/Caninenergy Ltd. and chair of the International Equine Body Worker Association for the United Kingdom and Europe.

The bands stimulate proprioception—self-awareness of where and how an individual’s body parts are being used—Rombach said, which results in the strengthening of muscles that regular exercise doesn’t usually affect.

“There’s constant feedback in motion between the stimulus (the bands) and the muscles via the skin, and movement is created, altered, and/or enhanced by stimulation of those muscles—in this case, with emphasis on core musculature (the abdominals, obliques, and hindquarter stabilizers, including the biceps femoris),” she said.

In their study on seven riding horses, Rombach and colleagues increased use of the bands gradually over a four-week training program, until horses were wearing them for the first 30 minutes of regular exercise (ridden or longed) three times a week. Using motion-detection equipment with inertial sensors, the team evaluated the back’s three-dimensional movements before and after the four-week program. They carried out the evaluations on six areas of the back during unridden trot, both in-hand on hard surfaces and on the longe on soft surfaces.

At the end of the program, horses showed less side-to-side and rotational vertebrae movement compared to the initial evaluation, Rombach said. This was not a forced effect of having bands on during the evaluation, she added. Her team saw the same results with or without the bands on.

The study was specific to this particular elastic band designed for the purpose, Rombach cautioned. Made to attach to a saddle pad, it is the result of two years of equine research and design. By going behind the hindquarters as well as under the abdomen, the bands stimulate muscle activity in horses in ways that other bands might not.

“It is necessary for it to pass behind the hindquarters and under the abdominals for the very reason that the rider cannot get to muscle groups that are key in locomotion,” she said. “The neural pathway needs to be stimulated for muscles to be functional. That’s similar to having a rider’s leg against horse: For specific cues (such as leg yield), the stimulus needs to be repeated until the motor control portion of that movement becomes a normal neural response. Bandages, wraps, human elastic bands, and other contraptions do not offer the same effect.”

The study, “Effect of a 4-week elastic resistance band training regimen on back kinematics in horses trotting in-hand and on the lunge,” was published in the Equine Veterinary Journal.