The Best In-Hand Exercises For Horses
In-hand exercises for horses boast amazing benefits for well-being, strength, and your relationship with your horse. Whether you’re bringing your horse back into work following injury or looking to further develop muscle strength and suppleness, these easy-to-do, DIY techniques are great to include within your horse’s routine!
Benefits of In-Hand Exercises
In-hand exercises can comprise of anything from stretches to maneuvers and tricks, all of which keep the mind stimulated.
Whilst performing tricks and maneuvers, this can be the perfect opportunity to refine movements and perfect execution, which can be tricky whilst riding. Drawing attention to visual and other sensory commands, exercises on the ground make sure your horse is listening to you as they require full focus.
Make sure to teach and perform movements in small bursts. This makes sure your horse does not switch off to your commands and isn’t performing a movement from habit, rather than instruction.
In hand exercises are also great to keep your horse’s boredom at bay and get them active on days where they might just see the four stable walls.
Which In-Hand Exercises Are The ‘Best’ For My Horse?
Dynamic stretches, known to most horse owners as ‘carrot stretches’, are one of the best types of in-hand exercises a horse owner can complete with their horse.
Dynamic stretches encourage your horse to extend muscle and soft tissue, therefore aiding flexibility. Performed in a controlled manner and speed, they are also great for strengthening muscles and stabilising joints of the back.
Researchers have found that performing a series of dynamic stretches increased the cross-sectional area and symmertry of the multifidus muscle.
The increased cross section area of this weight carrying muscle in the back represents a significant strength increase which is important when carrying a rider.
Improving strength over the top line, these stretches are perfect for when introducing a rider back into an exercise regime.
Meanwhile, better symmetry of the multifidi should result in horse being less likely to compensate for movement due to weakness. Movement compensation could result in further injury or uneven ‘wear and tear’.
Dynamic Stretching Exercises
Dynamic stretches or ‘carrot stretches’ should be performed until the horse reaches its maximal range of motion – this is to the point where the horse cannot stretch anymore without causing discomfort.
Do not force stretching. Encourage the following exercises with a carrot, or any other treat.
Encourage your horse to stretch their chin to their chest. This flexes the upper neck.
Encourage your horse to stretch their chin to their knees. Advance the stretch, encouraging their chin to extend toward their fetlocks. This stretch will flex the lower neck and lift the back.
Encourage your horse’s chin to their girth area on their right and left side. In this stretch, you should notice an obvious bend in the neck of your horse.
Encourage your horse’s chin to their flank, on the left- and right-hand side. This stretch encourages a large bend, incorporating both the neck and the back.
Encourage your horse’s chin to their right and then their left hind fetlock. This will bend the neck, and the back, as well as activate pelvic stabilizers and abdominal muscles.
Encourage your horse to stretch his neck out as far as possible after the rounding and bending.
Although it is an undesirable position when riding, naturally the horse’s back goes through phases of flexion and extension when moving, therefore it is also important to condition these muscles.
Written by Abby Dickenson