The best book you can buy…

“Activate Your Horse’s Core” by Dr Hilary Clayton and Dr Narelle Stubbs is one of our best-selling books. It is written by two leading lights in the equestrian world and provides a brilliant set of exercises that does exactly what it says on the tin!

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). Narelle 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 provide a series of exercises which have been shown in field trials to increase the cross-sectional area of the multifidus muscle, i.e. to improve core muscle strength. The exercises are broken down into three areas; dynamic mobilisation exercises (i.e. baited stretches), core strengthening exercises and balancing exercises.

The better chance we give our horses to perform to their optimum, the more enjoyable our experience with them will be, and theirs with us. Regardless of whether you are competing professionally, or enjoying a sunny hack, these exercises will help your horse to build and maintain a healthy core, meaning he finds his work easier.  Increased levels of comfort lead to less ‘bad’ behaviour as well as improved performance.  Take the time it takes, put the effort into helping your horse to physically be his best, and both you and he will reap the rewards.

 

Getting ready…

We are getting ready, dusting off our saddles, squishing our winter flabby legs into our long boots, checking that our show jacket will still do up. We are brushing the winter mud out of our horse’s tail, we are booking lessons with our trainer, we are googling “shows in March.”

It can be difficult getting started again after the winter. Our bodies feel more creaky, our motivation can still be having a nap. But its not long now, only a handful of weeks and the shows will kick of in earnest, so never mind you, is your horse ready?

We know how difficult it is to get your horse fit again, unless you are blessed with a floodlit school or indoor arena, but there are things that help. Remember how much that yoga session helped your fitness? By increasing the flexibility and balance in your body, your body can work effectively so you can generate a greater effect for the same amount of effort, well the same applies to your horse.

Activate Your Horse’s Core provides a great selection of exercises to do exactly what it says on the tin! These will help your horse to work correctly through his back, making sure that as you work him back to fitness, you are working the right muscles not the wrong ones!

The exercises are easy to follow, and you can do them in your stable, which is ideal for those still dark nights. Using the exercises with a short time riding as the nights draw out will make the most of the time you have with your horse and give him the best chance of using his body effectively.

Getting ready for the season is vitally important as you don’t want an early injury putting paid to your plans. Get fit, get prepared, and get out there! But most importantly, enjoy it!

In hand exercises and how they can help

The NICE guidelines for osteoarthritis, the leading cause of stiffness in humans and horses, include appropriate exercise. Exercise is recommended by doctors to tackle a whole range of health conditions in humans, and the same principles can be applied to our horses. We know that general exercise, even if only for 20 minutes a day can have impressive results on our health and the same is true of our horses.

In an ideal world, all horses would have access to grazing and the freedom to move around. Failing this, we try to go some way to replicate this natural process to maintain the health of our horses. Whether your horse is young or old, in full health or in rehabilitation, a series of simple exercises can do wonders for his general health.

Just as we know that our own core strength is vitally important to maintain health and performance, so the same applies to our horses.  Stubbs and Clayton (2008) state “One of the best ways to both prevent and to treat back pain in horses is through the regular use of core training exercises”1.

Dr Narelle Stubbs and Dr Hilary Clayton devoted years of research to building a series of exercises to improve core musculature in horses. The exercises shown in the book and DVD “Activate Your Horse’s Core” have been proven in field trials, as quoted in the Equine Veterinary Journal: “Research has shown that regular performance of dynamic mobilization exercises over a period of three months stimulated hypertrophy (enlargement) of the muscles that stabilize the horse’s back.”2

But it is not simply their work that has been examined under research. Other studies have taken place at leading centres of science and research showing that using the correct exercises can greatly benefit your horse. “Exercises to increase Multifidus cross sectional area (CSA) have been shown to reduce the amount and reoccurrence of back pain in humans. Similarly, dynamic mobilisation exercises have led to an increase in multifidus cross sectional area in horses on box rest.”3

Here the study has focused on horses on box rest.  This is important, as bringing horses back into after work after injury can be a daunting and difficult process, and one that can be improved if you can maintain some level of strength and flexibility during the box rest. A further study discusses the effect of exercises on asymmetries in horses. As asymmetry can contribute to further problems at a later date, exercises to balance out the difference between the left and the right hand side can only be a good thing. “Between the initial evaluation and final evaluation m. multifidus cross sectional area increased significantly at all six spinal levels on both right and left sides. Asymmetries in m. multifidus cross sectional area between the right and left sides decreased between the initial and final evaluations.”4

And finally, research suggesting that mobilisation can improve the quality of your horse’s paces: “Gymnastic exercises performed three times per week improved stride quality at walk.”5 So wherever you are with your horse, you can safely say that simple mobilisation exercises will benefit your horse.

References:

  1. Stubbs, N. and Clayton, H. (2008). Activate your horse’s core. Mason MI: Sport Horse Publications.
  2. Stubbs, Narelle & Kaiser, LeeAnn & Hauptman, J & Clayton, Hilary. (2011). Dynamic mobilisation exercises increase cross sectional area of multifidus. Equine veterinary journal. 43. 522-9. 10.1111/j.2042-3306.2010.00322.x.
  3. Tabor, G. (2017). The effect of dynamic mobilisation exercises on the equine multifidus muscle and thoracic profile. [online] Pearl.plymouth.ac.uk. Available at: https://pearl.plymouth.ac.uk/handle/10026.1/3320
  4. Stubbs NC, e. (2017). Dynamic mobilisation exercises increase cross sectional area of musculus multifidus. – PubMed – NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21496085
  5. de Oliveira, K., Soutello, R., da Fonseca, R., Costa, C., de L. Meirelles, P., Fachiolli, D. and Clayton, H. (2017). Gymnastic Training and Dynamic Mobilization Exercises Improve Stride Quality and Increase Epaxial Muscle Size in Therapy Horses.

 

Off horse exercises!

By Amy Craske

A good part of the work I do is as a riding instructor, both at a local riding school and freelancing with people’s own horses. I’m training with Mary Wanless and Ride With Your Mind to become a rider biomechanics coach, so I do focus a fair bit on people’s position and how the horse is responding to it. If you ever get a chance to have a that kind of lesson, I highly recommend it. If you have, I’m sure you will have been surprised at the huge difference making small changes to your position can make to your horse’s way of going. The thing is, often riding in a more balanced and effective position is hard work – it requires you to use muscles that just don’t get used very much on a daily basis! Sitting in an office chair, or whatever your daily job entails, rarely requires you to keep your balance on a moving object! And this is without even thinking about undoing any bad riding habits your body may have gotten into.

 

Adding to the problem of fitness is the fact that many of us are slightly divorced from what is going on with our bodies; our proprioception is not very good. If you haven’t heard the term before, lift your hand up and touch your ear. Did you need to be able to see your ear to be able to touch it accurately? That’s because you are using your proprioception. Unfortunately, most people have more difficulty working out what their lower leg is doing than finding their ear! Given all this, I’m often asked what people can do out of lessons to keep the good work going. Obviously the ideal would be to ride lots more! But with how busy most of us are this is difficult, and if you are going to a riding school may require remortgaging!! Lots of different riding methods have their own exercises to help with specific issues, I know RWYM. But for a general work out which will TONE your muscles, give you greater control and proprioception I personally think Pilates, Yoga or Feldenkrais are brilliant. They both, with a good instructor, also have an element of helping you control your breathing, practice mindfulness and get better at centring yourself, all of which are enormously useful skills around horses. So, do you have any other recommendations?