Activate Your Horse’s Core
by Narelle Stubbs and Hilary Clayton
About the authors
Dr Hilary Clayton is an internationally renowned veterinarian, author, researcher and clinician. Her work in the field of equestrian biomechanics has provided incredible insight into equine sports, and the relationship between the horse and rider. She has carried out research across an extensive range of areas including, though not limited to; bit fitting, saddle fitting biometrics, kinematics, kinetics and locomotion. Her work has helped to further knowledge and to improve welfare for horses across the globe.
Dr Narelle Stubbs is the official Australian Equestrian Team Physiotherapist, treating both horse and rider in many forms of equitation at the World Equestrian Games (1998, 2002, 2006) and the Olympics (2000,2004 and 2008). She regularly lectures internationally at Veterinary and Physiotherapy conferences and special teaching engagements. Narelle’s research interests include: biomechanics of locomotion, back and neck dysfunction, rehabilitation techniques, and the horse / rider unit and athletic performance.
This book and DVD describe three types of core training exercises: dynamic mobilization exercises, core strengthening exercises and balancing exercises. The dynamic mobilization exercises, otherwise known as baited stretches, teach the horse to follow a treat or a target with his nose to achieve specific positions that round and/or bend the spine. Veterinarians and therapists use baited stretches to evaluate the horse’s range of spinal motion and to compare the horse’s flexibility to the left and right sides. The book Activate Your Horse’s Core describes how to use these exercises to activate and strengthen the deep spinal stabilizing muscles that are responsible for stability of the back and neck during locomotion, which protects against the development of facet joint arthritis. These muscles often become inactive as a result of back pain and targeted exercises are needed to reactivate and strengthen them.
Three research studies have shown hypertrophy (increased size) of the deep spinal stabilizing muscles after performing baited stretches regularly for several weeks. All the studies had the horses perform three types of rounding exercises (chin-to0chest, chin-between-knees, chin-between-fore fetlocks) and three types of bending exercises performed to both left and right sides (chin-to-girth, chin-to-hock, chin-to-hind fetlock). The studies differed in how many repetitions of each exercise were performed each day and how many days per week they were repeated. The results were evaluated using ultrasonographic images to measure and compare the cross-sectional area of the deep spinal stabilizing muscles before and after the exercise program.
A- Study 1
B - Study 2
C - Study 3
Location of study
Type of horses
Number of repetitions of each exercise per day
Number of days per week
Duration of study (weeks)
Cross-sectional area of muscle
All three studies showed a statistically significant increase in cross-sectional area of the deep spinal stabilizing muscles at the end of the study. The changes were measurable within as little as 6 weeks after starting to do the baited stretches. Although we recommend doing baited stretches every day, the muscles will respond even if the exercises are done only 3 days a week. The best time to do the baited stretches is immediately before exercise in order to pre-activate the core stabilizing muscles in preparation for athletic activity.
A - Stubbs NC, Kaiser LJ, Hauptman J and Clayton HM. Dynamic mobilization exercises increase cross sectional area of musculus multifidus. Equine Vet J 2011;43:522-529.
B - de Oliveira K, Soutello RVG, da Fonseca R, Costa C, de L. Meirelles PR, Fachiolli DF and Clayton HM. Gymnastic training and dynamic mobilization exercises improve stride quality and epaxial muscle size in therapy horses. J Equine Vet Sci 2015;35: 888–893.
C - Tabor G. The effect of dynamic mobilisation exercises on the equine multifidus muscle and thoracic profile. MS thesis, Plymouth University, 2015.
By Sue Palmer “I’ve been doing carrot stretches now since Sue began helping my horse Danny in July 2016. I try and do them every day and it has become part of our morning routine. When we first started him moving to the left was near impossible, now the left is as good as the right and the difference is unbelievable from when we first started” Sue Tate with Danny My aim at The Horse Physio is to help horses, and therefore to help their owners, and when I come across something as simple and effective as baited stretches, I’ve just got to keep spreading the word! Please share this blog on social media and send it to any friends who would like their horse to be stronger through his back, or anyone who has a horse with a sore back. They really work!!! Baited stretches, often called carrot stretches, are one of the easiest, most effective exercises that you can do with your horse to improve strength, balance, flexibility and performance. Proven through research to improve core strength, they take just minutes, and fit nicely into a daily routine. Sue is just one of my many clients who have expressed their amazement at the change such a simple exercise can make, and in a relatively short time, and I’ve shared her quote in the hope that it will encourage you to try them out for yourself. I’ll start with the research. It is well known that in humans, if you suffer a period of back pain, there is a high chance (around 80%) that you will get more back pain in the future. This likelihood of recurrence of back pain can be reduced to around 30% with the right type of exercise, targeting core strength (e.g. Pilates). Since it’s also well known that back pain is a major issue for horses, Dr Hilary Clayton and Dr Narelle Stubbs set out to develop a set of equine exercises that were based on these well-proven exercises for humans, and assessed the changes in muscle size and symmetry after a few weeks of the program. Three separate studies, in the US, the UK, and Brazil, have shown an increase in cross sectional area of the deep stabilising muscles after regular use of baited stretches. They also show an improvement in symmetry of the muscles. These exercises are taught in the book and DVD ‘Activate Your Horse’s Core’. Not only are the baited stretches taught, along with some other key core strength and balance exercises, but the reasoning behind them is explained, and (probably most importantly!) you’re taught how to do them safely! Monty Roberts has been particularly vocal about the dangers of hand feeding your horse, and safety is very much a factor in baited stretches. The DVD is 95 minutes long, and the book is designed for you to take to the yard as a reminder.
I’ve also been doing your ‘pilates’ stretches every single day for 3 weeks, and I can’t believe the difference! We must have gained more than 30cm in flexibility on her ‘stiff’ side, but more importantly, she’s now standing herself square and balancing herself/engaging her core before stretching - something I’ve been trying to get her to do (without being prompted) forever! To be totally honest, although I do a lot of in-hand dressage for strength/suppling, I’ve always thought static stretches were a bit pointless from a 'real training' point of view, but I stand corrected!! I'm 100% converted!
Zoe Smith editor of Intelligent Horsemanship Magazine
About Activate your Horse's Core (Used in conjunction with the Equiband System)