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Training your horse to work over his back

core engagement Dec 11, 2020

This weeks Tips are all about the things you need to consider when training your horse to genuinely work over his back.

It’s a term we hear a LOT, you may have received ‘not working over the back’ as a comment from a dressage judge, or you just struggle to have your horse working in good posture / long and low, and are not sure why...

Tip 1: Posture

Let’s start with posture…good posture is so important for our horses - we sit on the lowest, weakest part of the back, so this is the very part of the horse that we need to be strengthening.

Good posture in humans is all about strengthening the ‘core’ to protect and strengthen the back, and it’s exactly the same in horses, just in the horizontal plane!

Good posture basics in the horse: a strong and lifted back and core, with a lengthened neck which is held neither high/tense nor too low. Good, correct posture gives us a strong platform to sit on.

Why this is important: If your horse is being exercised with a hollow back, high head and neck carriage, you are reinforcing/strengthening a ‘negative’ posture in your horse, shortening the back muscles, and ultimately bringing the spinous processes closer together, which is the painful condition ‘Kissing Spine’.

So working on postural correction is step 1, and once this is established, we can then strengthen that posture.

Tip 2: Core engagement to lift the back

The horses back doesn’t lift/pull up, it is pushed up by the abdominals along the underline of the horses body.

So if your horse has a weak core, his back will also be weak as it’s basically one ‘unit’.

And in terms of training your horse to work over his back, we actually need to be strengthening the core!

Non ridden exercise such as lunging (if appropriate for your horse), long reining, pole work are all useful as ‘core work’, along with my favourite exercises - carrot stretches!!

There is so much we can do to correct our horses posture and strengthen their core, and you can actually transform your horses posture with simple daily work.

Tip 3: Back and saddle checks

If you are struggling to train your horse to work over his back, some initial checks to make are:

  • Full musculoskeletal body check by a trained professional
  • Saddle check by a fully qualified professional

If your horse is sore in his body, in particular in his back (spinal joints/muscles), he may be unwilling or unable to lift his back, or just a little avoidant, so it’s worth having regular bodywork as routine (I always recommend this anyway), and certainly if you are struggling to improve your horses posture.

Your horses shape and muscle mass / tone does change regularly, so again have your saddles checked regularly with a fully qualified professional saddle fitter, and if you are struggling to train your horse to work over his back, have your saddle checked just in case something needs altering.

I see this situation regularly - once a horse has been treated and had the saddle check/altered, the horse is then able to move much more freely over the back!

Tip 4: Daily management tips for improving posture

When looking at how to improve our horses posture and core strength, there is actually quite a bit we can do on a day to day management level to help our horses, outside of exercise!

Variable feeding positions: there is new research around how we can and should mimic the horses natural feeding patterns, and the reasons why, but in short there are lots of benefits for our horses to feed them in varying positions. I wrote a blog post all about this last year after attending a seminar where this research was presented, click back to the blog page to find it! 

Low neck position: have you tried leading your horse around with a lowered neck…it’s not always as easy as it sounds! If your horse struggles to do this, he is resisting in his neck/core/back.

Turnout: super simple, but horses are evolved to live outside eating!! It’s much healthier for them to be out moving around, and this helps with posture and core strength, versus standing still in a stable all day.

Long and low work: do you encourage your horse to work long and low...in ridden schooling, out hacking, while lunging? Long and low is a great position for horses to work in regularly and throughout your exercise session, as he gets to stretch his topline, which encourages the core and back to lift. Again, a variety of positions is good for your horses body. 

***If you would like to delve into all of this further, I can help you to truly transform your horses posture with the training modules in my Online Learning Platform! The training includes core exercises, training aids, groundwork, and so much more! I see huge results in horses when they are trained to engage their core properly, so have developed my training modules to help you with this important learning! 

***Please contact me if you would like the details, you can sign up and get immediate access to the Online Learning Platform training modules and my VIP  members group! ***Or just click through to the page here if you can't wait! Online Learning Platform

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