Muscle building is an essential part of your horse’s health, but what’s the right way to build muscle strength, and which exercises are most effective? Here are some tips for building muscle in your equestrian athlete.
Before You Begin
Visit your vet before beginning any muscle-building program to help you identify and address any underlying issues that may interfere with your horse’s ability to benefit from exercise.
Begin slowly, increasing the intensity of exercise gradually to build stamina. This will help avoid the pain and injury that can lead to training resistance.
Always be on the lookout for signs that your horse’s physical limit has been reached, such as trembling muscles, poor performance, and heavy blowing and decrease intensity or stop completely until they’ve had a chance to recover fully.
Ways to Exercise Your Horse
A good workout routine will include exercises that encourage body-wide muscle development.
Stretching your horse’s muscles before and after exercise will help them to maintain their flexibility. Aim to hold each of these stretches for between 20 and 30 seconds.
Forward and backward stretch – To stretch the leg forward, imagine you’re trying to touch your horse’s opposite front leg with their back hoof. Stretch the leg backward in the same way you would if you were cleaning their hoof.
High flexion stretch – Pull their hind leg up under their hip to flex their stifle and hocks.
Treat/carrot stretch – Hold a carrot, apple, alfalfa, or green grass in front of your horse and get them to reach for it. Hold the treat between their front legs to stretch neck, rib cage, and topline.
Tail pulling stretch – This is a great way to regularly decompress your horse’s spine and allow nutrients into tissue. Simply grasp their tail gently by the hairs or approximately three inches below their tail’s bony part. Then, lean backward and allow your weight to pull their tail. Then hold for 30 seconds.
Proper Saddle Fit and Correct Position
A saddle that isn’t properly fitted will prevent your horse from using their upper body muscles properly. Always check for proper saddle contact, clearance, balance, and position prior to mounting. Doing so will help you maintain balance during horseback riding.
Proper Horse Riding
Instead of allowing your horse to drop their head or “invert” during riding, get them to drop their nose and lift their back, which will cause more work in their hind end. Side rein longeing will help you both achieve proper riding position.
Varied Terrain and Hill Work
If you have access to undulating terrain, you have an ideal way to exercise all of your horse’s muscle groups, whether you turn them out or ride in these locations.
Whether going up- or downhill, your horse must lift their body weight. Gradual slopes are a great beginning. If varied terrain isn’t readily available, hill work can still be done with ditches, using a harness to pull drags, or jumping.
Ride uphill to get their hind muscles working and downhill to strengthen front legs, chest, and thigh muscles.
Backing your horse can help them build muscle where they need it most. Be sure to go slowly but steadily as you back in a straight line. As your horse builds muscle, you can begin backing them up a gentle incline.
Lay trot poles on the ground, initially, and have your horse ride over them. This encourages the natural engagement of their hindquarter muscles. When they have developed more muscle, have them ride over raised poles.
Treadmills and Horse Exercisers
A treadmill can be an ideal way to build your horse’s stamina and keep them moving where varied terrain is not accessible.
A horse exerciser is ideal for conditioning and training. It can help normalize your horse’s vital signs and reduce muscle stiffness after exercise without the need for a hot walker.
Placing your horse on a vibration plate can offer them a host of benefits. Whole-body vibration, or WBV, has been shown to help horses maintain their bone density and integrity, relieve pain, improve circulation, and increase energy levels. WBV also greatly improves the health of horse hooves through consistent application and with a diet including balanced amino acids.
The Perfect Complement to Proper Training and Care
In combination with a balanced diet, regular exercise and strength training benefit the core muscles your horse needs to support their weight and their spine.
Horse riders, trainers, rehabilitators, and veterinarians wanting to provide their horse with full-body exercise choose Vitafloor products. We are the inventors of WBV technology and are leading developers in our industry.
Quality products available from Vitafloor continue to help owners in over 25 countries improve the performance, comfort, health enjoyment and training of their horses.
Our lines of superior equestrian products include treadmills, exercisers, vibration plates, safety wall gates, enclosures, equine solarium systems, and much more.
For more information about any of our products, simply visit our online store. If you have any questions, we are happy to help; you can contact us online, or call now to speak with a Vitafloor USA, Inc. team member: (352) 737-6743.