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.

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