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Training your horse to come off the forehand

core engagement training Feb 21, 2022

As an Equine Physiotherapist I work with a lot of horses with injuries, and something that has really stood out for me during my professional career with horses over the last 10+ years, is that they really are not a good design for riding. They are not evolved or designed to do what we do with them, and are definitely not a good natural design for being ridden...hence breakdowns and injuries happening. 

So just taking one element of this within this post...horses weight distribution is around 60% over the forehand and around 40% over the hindquarters. You have probably already heard this?! Don't stop reading yet...!!

Did you know that the horses scapula (shoulder blade) is attached to the rest of the body by soft tissue only, so no bony joint? This is something important to realise about horses, especially within training. 

The NEGATIVE part of this...

What I see with a LOT of horses is that they are blocked, over-developed or 'stuck' in the shoulders, looking downhill, riding downhill, heavy in the contact, no flexibility in the shoulders, this then tends to translate to quite a locked back. The long term situation for this sort of horse, if the issue isn't addressed, is that their body isn't really functioning, there is far too much weight in the forehand, and this can lead to injury due to uneven weight distribution PLUS back issues such as kissing spine due to the knock on effect within exercise. 

The POSITIVE part of this...

We CAN do something about it!! What we need to do, is to mobilise the shoulders, to release the soft tissues (the thoracic sling muscles) FIRST, then activate and then strengthen those important tissues. We need the thoracic sling muscles to be flexible not stuck, and then strengthened so not weak and inactive.

This process will enable the shoulders much more freedom, allow the horse to naturally  lift the withers between the scapula, and then the horse can take the weight a bit more towards the hindquarters, the weight distribution is more even from forehand-hindquarters, the horse is less downhill, and over time can become 'off the forehand'!

AND THEN the body is functioning in a much improved way, improved posture, reduced forelimb injury risk, spine is able to function better, horse can work over the back and use the body fully instead of being 'nose down into the ground' by being on the forehand. 

(Another blog to have a look at here, regarding this process, is my 'Mobilise-Activate-Strengthen' post: Blog: Mobilise-Activate-Strengthen 

In working with horses that have a long term 'on the forehand' pattern, with a combination of treatment, and specific exercises within training, I have seen horses go from looking/being downhill, to physically lifting at the wither and becoming much more flexible in the shoulder, and throughout the body. 

Imagine yourself, if your shoulders were stuck down so that you could only minimally move your arms backwards/forwards, how restrictive that would be, and how difficult a lot of tasks would be...and ultimately how uncomfortable or painful it would be, and how other parts of your body would have to take over from the shoulders lack of movement...? It's the same for the horse. 

What can you do for your horse, if you identify that they are 'heavy on the forehand'? 

Many times this will be habit, lack of flexibility, poor posture, lack of core strength, and a huge amount can be done with daily stable based exercises. These are one of the most important sections in what I teach...core mobilisation and core activation exercises. Learning how to do these exercises properly and effectively, without your horse cheating (YES they do cheat!), is one of the best pieces of advice that I can offer to you as a horse owner. In my opinion this work is best done in the stable, to allow maximum mobilisation for the horses body, without a rider on the horses back. The exercises are quite a skill to learn, but make a huge difference to your horses posture, core strength, weight distribution, flexibility, movement, and ability! 

If you would like to learn from me how to do the exercises that I use and recommend, have a look at my NEW online course 'Core Exercises for your horse' here...: Core Exercises Course

And if you need any further help with your horse, you can get in touch with me via the Contact page on my website. 

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