We’ve explored some ground exercises you can do to help your horse develop and maintain their core. Online you can also find some great ridden core exercises (pole work, hill work, etc). Today we’ll dive into why developing and maintaining your horse’s core is so important.
Essentially, good core strength (and good posture), allows your horse to function as intended. Developing your horse’s core and strengthening the abdominal muscles that stabilize your horse’s pelvis, spine and back also creates a good topline, poll to dock, and good posture. A strong core, and thus a good topline, allows the spine to flex the way it should and the ribcage to sit where it should. Without a strong core and good topline several not so great things can happen:
Because horses are “rear-wheel-drive” animals, without a strong core, your horse can’t get their hind legs under them far enough to properly engage their hind end. This results in poor collection, poor performance and weakened hindquarters, which can lead to lower back discomfort, inability to pick up the correct lead, stifle and hock issues, etc.
With poor abdominal engagement from your horse’s core, the muscles of your horse’s back aren’t strong enough to properly support a rider in the saddle. With weakened back muscles the horse’s spine dips steeply behind the withers, the ribcage drops, the spaces between the vertebrae close and you end up with back problems like a sway back and “kissing spine.” A dropped ribcage also means reduced rib and spine flexibility, reduced ease of breathing, and reduced ability to properly bend their body around your leg when making a turn.
Without strong hindquarters and a strong topline, your horse compensates by raising their head and overusing their front end. Your horse’s shoulders become locked, and your horse becomes a “front-wheel-drive” animal, with most of the weight borne on the inside front leg. This means you could end up with shoulder issues, tight neck issues, tendon and knee issues, and that mystery lameness you can’t quite pin down.
There is good news, however. Working on your horse’s core strength can gradually correct many of these issues. As with any endeavor, developing and maintaining your horse’s core requires focus, effort, consistency and time. So make sure your horse gets plenty of good turnout, and spend some quality time with them, focused on helping your horse develop and maintain a strong, supportive core!