Pilates and Stretching FOR HORSES

These two exercises for improving spinal movement are taken from Pilates and Stretching – an exercise index for horse owners, published by Horses inside Out and available from www.HorsesInsideOut.com

We have all heard of the phrase, ‘If you don’t use it, you lose it!’ As there is very little movement between the vertebrae it is easy for stiffness to develop. It is important therefore to maintain mobility within the horse’s back. To do this we need to use a full and varied range of movement on a regular basis to help stimulate the production of synovial fluid production and maintain healthy joints.
When we study biomechanics we can see that there is most rotational movement between the vertebrae in walk compared to any other gaits. The exercises in this article, extracted from Gillian Higgins’ book Pilates and Stretching for Horses (www.HorsesInsideOut.com) encourage greater movement through the vertebrae in walk, as well as having many other beneficial effects.

Backing Up


• To lift and flex the back.
• To strengthen the muscles and structures involved in engagement and carrying the weight of the rider.
• To stimulate the sacroiliac area.

This is collection in reverse!

How to do it:

• Walk the horse forwards into a positive halt.
• By applying gentle pressure on the chest and head collar encourage the horse to step back. As he becomes more practised at this exercise, less pressure will be required.
• Keep the head as low as possible to encourage the back to raise. If he has a tendency to hollow, use a carrot to encourage him to keep his head low.
• Try to avoid the horse reversing with rushed, short, hollow steps.
• Back up a minimum of 10 steps to allow the horse to get into a rhythm.


Incorporate this exercise into your daily regime by backing your horse up before you ride.

To make this exercise harder, try backing up a slight gradient.

Good for:

Mobilising the lumbo-sacral joint and muscles and stimulating the sacroiliac region.

Walking Over a Raised Pole


• To lift and flex the back, hip, shoulder and elbow, stifle and hock.
• To strengthen the muscles and structures involved in engagement, hip flexion and pelvic stability.
• To improve suppleness and flexibility through the shoulder and elbow, hip, stifle and hock,

How to do it:

• Slowly walk the horse over a  pole on the ground.
• Gradually raise it until it is around knee height.
• Encourage the horse to lower his head to look at the pole.
• This exercise can be performed in hand or ridden.
• Perform on a daily basis.


Walking over a raised pole requires greater flexion in the horses joints than in trotting.

Place a raised pole in a location where the horse can regularly walk over it; for example to and from the field.

Good for:

Improving suppleness and flexibility through the shoulder and elbow, hip, stifle and hock.

Author: The Editor

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