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Pilates for Horses - Part 2: Exercises using Reflexes

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

As we are all restricted with what we can do with our horses at the moment, I wanted to share some exercises that you can easily do with your horse at home. This is the second in a series of blogs sharing Top Tip videos and extracts from my book Pilates and Stretching for Horses. This time we focus on the principles of core stability, the core muscles and share top tips for core stability exercises using reflexes.

gillian higgins horses inside out pilates for horses cover photograph

This article includes extracts from Gillian’s book How the Horse Moves, Pilates and Stretching for Horses and the Horses Inside Out Poster Book Volume 1: The MusculoSkeletal System available from her website

Core Stability

Core stability and core strength refer to the condition of the core muscles to provide, maintain and improve posture, self-carriage and balance. Improved strength will also help carry the weight of the rider (see July) and reduce the risk of injury. Good core stability is an important ingredient in performing all movements and is vital in performing those involving high levels of collection.

Stimulating and strengthening the core muscles comes from working the horse appropriately to age and stage with particular attention being paid to the positioning of the neck and back and hind limbs. Ground exercises have an important part to play and are extremely useful in maintaining muscular condition, where the horse is recovering from injury or has been using the wrong muscles to perform a movement in compensation for weak, damaged or painful muscles.

Fact File - Core Muscles of the Horse

These are some of the main core muscles of the horse. Stimulating and strengthening these will help to maintain a good posture:

  • Multifidus Muscle. This runs very close to the spine and contributes to vertebral stability and postural re-adjustment.

  • Iliopsoas Muscle Group. These muscles are situated underneath the lumbosacral spine and pelvis, help to stabilise and flex the lumbosacral junction and are highly involved in tiliting the pelvis during collection.

  • Abdominal Muscles. As well as supporting the abdomen and assisting with breathing and defecation, the abdominal muscles help to flex (lift) and create lateroflexion of the thoracolumbar region. They therefore have an important role to play in helping to maintain good back posture particularly when carrying the weight of a rider.

  • Thoracic Sling. These muscles support the weight of the thorax between the forelimbs in the absence of a collar bone. When toned they can lift the withers up in between the scapulas making the horse appear to grow in height.

  • Hip and Pelvic Stabilisers. These muscles include the biceps femoris and are particularly important in movements which require the hind end to carry more weight and create sideways movement simultaneously for example in the canter pirouette.

gillian higgins horses inside out core muscles annotated painted horse skeleton

This is a photograph illustrating the main core muscles of the horse. This photograph has been taken from the Horses Inside Out Anatomy Poster Book Volume 1 : The Musculoskeletal System.

Core stability Exercises for horses

Many of the Pilates principals can be applied to the horse. By performing specific exercises, the core muscles can be strengthened. These include the deep internal muscles of the abdomen, pelvis, thoracic sling, and back together with the more superficial muscles of the trunk. Neutral Spine, a key feature in Pilates is the natural position of the spine when all body parts are in good alignment. In horses this translates to correct alignment of the vertebrae and correct spinal curves forming a strong bridge, relieving pressure on the back and allowing movement to become fluid and free. Performing core stability exercises helps to keep the equine athlete strong, supple and injury free. These exercises are active, where the horse uses his own muscles to move his body or reach for a carrot.

Practice Makes Perfect!

For core stability exercises to have an impact they must be performed regularly four to five times per week over a period of about six to eight weeks. For ongoing benefit, it is advisable to perform them regularly three times per week. Where appropriate they must be performed equally to both sides. The more proficient the horse becomes, the greater the benefit.

Exercises Using Reflexes

These exercises stimulate reflexes which result in the contraction of core muscles, particularly the abdominal muscles, hip flexors and thoracic sling (see last month’s issue). Care however must be taken if you are worried about how your horse will react.

If you think he will kick or dislikes having his girth done up it is best to avoid these exercises.

gillian higgins horses inside out back lift how to

gillian higgins horses inside out sternum lift pilates

There will be more exercises in the next Blog.

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Leonore Laidler
Leonore Laidler
Sep 20, 2023
Rated 4 out of 5 stars.

😊Very clear instruction done with the horses feelings in mind :)

Gillian Higgins
Gillian Higgins
Sep 20, 2023
Replying to

Thank you Leonore :-)

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