What are Corrective Exercises for Horses?

What are Corrective Exercises for Horses?

Whether or not it works in our favor, horses become stronger somewhere any time they exercise. Unfortunately, this often means tightening up muscles and patterns we wish to change for ideal wellness and performance. For instance, when a rider spends ten minutes trying to help a stiff horse bend his body on a circle but only achieves good results for two or three of those minutes, that means the horse has spent the remaining eight (or more) minutes adding strength to the areas in his body we are trying to change. This ratio does not favor our goals.

When the horse spends more minutes getting stronger in ways we don’t want rather than the ones we do want, our goals become elusive. How, then, do we ensure that our horses move more frequently in optimal patterns of muscle recruitment?

The more often we can put their bodies in the correct alignment and balance, the more this becomes a habit for them. They learn, like us, to move with better posture for larger percentages of time without constant reminders. Corrective exercises help do just this. These simple routines guide the horse without mental or physical resistance through the versions of bodily alignments we wish to make habitual. To draw on human analogy, you can think of them as the exercises a physical therapist would have you perform in order to use your body optimally in all aspects of your life.

Once you are using your body optimally within each exercise, the results soon carry over to your overall movement and mechanics. By working through a toolbox of exercises to establish good range of motion in joints, resolve muscle imbalances, and improve recruitment of core muscles, you create a new operating code for the neuromuscular system. The ratio of time spent moving correctly and efficiently then shifts in our favor.

dressage exercise

Given that we do not yet have an established field of physical therapy for horses, at least here in the U.S., I am hoping my newly published book creates a dialogue that broadens in to something like a paradigm shift. As I continue to study and learn, my own training practices have changed a lot. My goals and ideals remain the same and I am still always coming from a dressage foundation, but how I go about working with each horse has shifted remarkably. Specifically, my studies of equine fitness and physiology have led me to incorporate far more Corrective Exercises than I would have imagined before. This change has allowed me to achieve positive lasting results quicker, but without taking shortcuts.

Nowadays, I approach a horse with the goal of training his neurosensory and neuro-motor systems first and then working on his muscles. Corrective Exercises work for several reasons, but here are the primary ones:

-reduce the percentage of time spent in unhelpful movement patterns, so that good habits become more the norm.
-increase range of motion in joints, which in turn creates reflexive ‘releases’ and looseness through the horse system-wide
-recruit postural muscles, often referred to as core muscles. This recruitment allows the limbs to move more freely, resulting in engagement.

-Develop new postural habits with minimal confusion, tension, or anxiety in the horse.
The paradigm shift I mentioned above will see more riders spending less time riding around trying to achieve good results while only achieving a few fleeting golden moments each ride. Sure, golden moments can be stitched together over time to create positive changes. But instead how about if we constructed training scenarios that were entirely golden moments and nothing else? How wonderfully helpful might this be for our horses?

Who wishes to join me in this growing dialogue about a smarter, not harder, way to work with our horses?

Filed Under: Horse Training & Exercises, Horse Care & Upkeep, Horse Health & Fitness | Tags: , ,

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