Activate Your Horse’s Core

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.

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-to-chest, 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.

Study 1a Study 2b Study 3c
Location of study US Brazil UK
Type of horses School horses Therapy horses Racehorses
Number of repetitions of each exercise per day 5 5 10
Number of days per week 5 3 5
Duration of study (weeks) 12 6 6
Cross-sectional area of muscle increased increased increased


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.


aStubbs 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.

bde 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.

cTabor G. The effect of dynamic mobilisation exercises on the equine multifidus muscle and thoracic profile. MS thesis, Plymouth University, 2015.

Our guest blogger is Dr Hilary Clayton.

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