Physiology Why is it comfortable to cross your legs

8 exercises for horses with back pain

Horses with back problems are not uncommon - on the contrary. If there is a problem in the horse's movement center, the right training is essential. Book author Anne Schmatelka reveals eight effective exercises that you can easily do yourself.

Four out of five people will suffer from a sore back at least occasionally during their lifetime. There are no reliable figures about how many horses feel the same way. However, a look at the relevant forums and equine clinics suggests that back diseases in horses occur more often than we would like. The palette ranges from simple tension to serious problems, which can ultimately even result in the riding horse being permanently unusable.

Although many riders try to keep their horses healthy through daily gymnastics, humans are one of the main culprits when it comes to horse back problems. A lack of knowledge of the horse's anatomy and physiology, inadequate riding skills and excessive ambition mean that things no longer run smoothly in the horse's movement center. The signs of this are varied and easy to miss in the early stages. At the beginning, the attentive rider may notice a certain reluctance to work, the horse is more energetic than usual, may suddenly no longer like to bend to one side and is a little queasier than usual when it comes to leaning on it otherwise always such a good horse suddenly there are problems opening or saddling up. If real contradictions arise when riding in the form of humps or climbs, if you refuse to walk or a hand completely, there is a fire on the roof. At this point at the latest, the vet will be called to see if everything is going well. At this stage, however, the problem is often so serious that rehabilitation takes several weeks.

A healthy back through movement

Professional exercise therapy plays a central role in back problems. If the horse cannot be ridden due to the severity of the disease, gymnastics from the ground is called for. Correct longevity training and work on the hand make an important contribution to releasing tension, strengthening weakened muscles and improving mobility so that the horse can carry its rider pain-free again in the future.

8 small exercises with a big impact

In order to help your horse to have a healthier back, time-consuming training sessions are not necessary - and often do not make sense at all. With the right exercises, just a few minutes a day are enough to sustainably improve your horse's back activity. Book author Anne Schmatelka has put together eight simple exercises with which every horse owner can help his back-troubled horse to become more well-being. Although special specialist knowledge is not absolutely necessary for the application, Schmatelka recommends an initial briefing by a specialist (e.g. ostheopath). Your horse also needs preparation in advance: “The exercises should only be carried out with horses that have been warmed up in order to avoid further cramps or even damage to the muscles. For this purpose, gentle massages are just as suitable as extensive step phases, ”explains the expert.

1. Relaxation of the neck fascia

To loosen and relax the withers, upper and lower neck muscles, gently push your hand into the fold of the neck. The horse must let its neck fall in a relaxed manner. If the muscles are loose, you can push your hand in deeply. If there is strong tension in this area, it is difficult to push the hand into the crease. The horse may then react with insubordination. You may notice a difference in the strength of the muscles when comparing the sides. The aim is for both sides to feel equally elastic later on.

Important: Do not try to force your hand into the fold of your neck. Take your time and you will see you get a little further every day. After four to five weeks, your horse will enjoyably stretch its head down, snort it off and chew it off.

2. Carrot exercise

The carrot exercise is the perfect gauge of how agile your horse is. A relaxed horse can move its head around to the hindquarters without having to run with its front feet. Make sure that your horse stretches as slowly as possible towards the knee. You will have reached perfection when he can hold his head at the level of the ankle for a moment. If it cracks, it doesn't matter, something has come loose. In any case, the horse will only willingly perform this exercise if it does not cause him pain. So practice calmly.

3. Bulge

To manually arch your horse's back, you need to first find the right point. Reach under the stomach just behind the front legs. You will find a slight indentation roughly in the middle. This is the point that you can bend upwards with your fingertips with light pressure or with a wooden stick. This bulging goes up to the withers, which can be easily loosened and stretched in this way. The mobility of the spine is supported and the horse's back is relieved.

You can repeat this exercise on many occasions - when cleaning, just before getting on or when your horse is standing under the solarium. The more you lift the horse's back in this way, the faster it becomes elastic.

Attention: If this is the first time you do this exercise, your horse may not be delighted as it may be stiff and fearful of pain. To keep your hind leg from kicking out, lift up one foreleg. If you use a wooden stick, only apply very little pressure!

4. Loosening of the hyoid muscles and jaw

Relaxed hyoid muscles, a relaxed jaw and a relaxed neck are essential for a horse to be relaxed and permeable. Rough reins, an incorrect head and neck position or a noseband that is too tightly buckled lead to cramps in this area. Many horses with back problems are also very tense and cramped in this region. With the help of the exercise described below you can - in consultation with your osteopath - help your horse to relax these areas again. The effect can be seen quickly when riding. Horses chew again while riding and they no longer open their mouths - provided that the bridle is loosely buckled in accordance with a fine riding style and the rider's hand works fine.

Insert your index fingers into the corners of the horse's mouth and gently pull away from the teeth. It is best to support yourself lightly with your thumb at the same time on the upper first molar tooth so that your finger cannot get between the teeth if the horse's head moves unplanned. Use your other fingers to hold the holster on the outside. The important thing is that your horse starts chewing - it will do so with its lower jaw on the side of the stimulus, so both sides should be worked on equally.

Attention: This exercise is not so pleasant for many horses, especially at the beginning, so proceed slowly and carefully, especially at the beginning. Make sure that your horse does not catch your fingers with his teeth if he shakes his head or makes other head movements.

5. Tilt the pelvis

With this exercise you improve the mobility of the pelvic area. If you put gentle pressure on the front of the pelvis with the chopsticks - left and right of the spine on the long back muscle - your horse will tip the pelvis forward and you will see and feel the whole back move forward downward pushes. If you carefully and slowly go down the back of the croup with two wooden sticks, your horse will arch its back, especially the lumbar region.

Attention: Be especially careful in the beginning of this exercise and do not apply too much pressure. A position slightly to the side of the horse is safer. It is better to avoid this exercise on horses that tend to kick.

6. Pulling a tail

By pulling the tail, you can stretch and relax the entire topline (spine) of the horse. Make sure you start pulling the tail slowly and focus on your horse's reaction. Many horses find this exercise very relaxing and, once understood, gladly accept it. Start slowly and with a lot of feeling, and do not stand too close behind the horse the first time.

7. Stretching for the hind legs

This exercise is used to mobilize the hip joint. Many horses find it difficult to stretch their hind legs far back, especially when practicing at the beginning, because the exercise is strenuous for the hip flexor, among other things. The muscle begins to tremble quickly.

Horses with back problems are often just stiff and have to get used to this stretching exercise slowly and carefully. In the first step, you should therefore start stretching backwards very carefully. Most of the horses will try to pull the leg back again. At first this is no longer tragic. When the horse no longer feels discomfort or pain, the exercise will be easier for him to perform.

Even when stretching the hind legs diagonally under the belly, it is not about stretching far past the front leg, but first of all about the horse's willingness to join in and not feel any pain.

In the course of time you feel that the horse is no longer opposed to the pull, it becomes more flexible in the hind leg and in the hips and the stretching works more easily.

8. Stretching for the front legs

During this stretching exercise, it is particularly important that the front leg is not pulled up too far. Otherwise the horse will have to drop its back to raise its leg as high as we ask it to. Depending on the back problem, this can be associated with pain. The exercise would definitely not work. To perfect this exercise, after a while you can gently begin to stretch the front legs slightly outwards and inwards. However, gradually increase the stretching over weeks. A well-stretched and flexible shoulder area is indispensable for side movements, so that the movement is harmonious and elastic and the legs can reach and cross widely.

The exercises presented are short but effective. Just a few minutes a day are enough to mobilize the back muscles of your horse in a targeted manner and thus to prevent and / or alleviate pain. “If your horse appears satisfied and relaxed after completing the exercises, this is the best testimony for you. Then you've done everything right, ”reveals Anne Schmatelka.

In Anne Schmatelka's book "About the back - riding horses with back problems correctly", published by Cadmos, you can read about what is important when rebuilding a horse with back problems, what has to be observed when training on the lunge and under the rider and how you can avoid back problems in the long term.

Book tip

Over the back
Ride horses with back problems properly

Anne Schmatelka
ISBN 978-3-8404-1014-7
available from Cadmos: order

Insufficient permeability, timing errors, problems in the side movements: These and many other common difficulties in dressage training for horses can be traced back to back pain. The cause is mostly educational errors - and this is where the author of this book comes in. Because horses with back problems are not necessarily unrideable, but with the right methods and exercises they can still be ridden painlessly and even at a high level of dressage. If the horse is consistently worked "over the back" and according to the principles of classical equestrian art and if the framework conditions such as saddle adjustment, hoof correction and posture are taken into account, muscle building enables the horse to perform well into old age. This book brings together all the important information about the topic and shows the way to a back-friendly riding style.

Anne Schmatelka has been working intensively for years on keeping the horse healthy despite being used by the rider and has published numerous articles on these topics in various specialist magazines. She is particularly interested in the subject of back problems in horses. The author trained her own horse, which was diagnosed with Kissing Spines at the age of five, up to S level.