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Pilates for Horses - Part 3: In Hand Exercises

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

This is the third 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 benefits of performing Pilates with Horses and illustrate a couple of in hand exercises that are good to fit into your daily routine.

gillian higgins horses inside out Pilates for horses, carrot stretches, core stability, back flexion equine

This article includes extracts from Gillian’s book How the Horse Moves and Pilates and Stretching for Horses available from HERE

Why do Pilates for Horses?

Many of the Pilates principals can be applied to the horse. Core stability, strength and suppleness are as important to horses as they are to riders. Maintaining stability, posture and balance can contribute to more effective training, improved performance and can reduce the risk of injury.

Stimulating and strengthening the core muscles will come through correct work and skilful use of ridden movements and exercises as directed by your trainer. There are however, a number of exercises, performed from the ground, which can supplement ridden work to help to improve core stability.

By performing these specific exercises, the core muscles that make for good posture, a strong back and assist in carrying the weight of the rider 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.

Core strengthening exercises can be invaluable as part of a rehabilitation programme following injury. Using specific exercises to target and stimulate weak or injured muscles can be particularly useful. Following permission from your vet, any well qualified therapist will be able to advise on an individually designed programme of exercises.

Here we are looking at two different exercise demonstrating ways to lift, supple and flex the back.

Backing Up


  • To lift and flex the back.

  • To strengthen the muscles and structures involved in engagement and carrying the weight of the rider.

  • To stimulate the sacroiliac area.

This is collection in reverse!

  Horse backing up, core stability, pelvis tilts, improve topline equine pilates for gillian higgins horses inside out

How to do it:

  • Walk the horse forwards into a positive halt.

  • By applying gentle pressure on the chest and head collar encourage the horse to step back. As he becomes more practised at this exercise less pressure will be required.

  • Keep the head as low as possible to encourage the back to raise. If he has a tendency to hollow, use a carrot to encourage him to keep his head low.

  • Try to avoid the horse reversing with rushed, short, hollow steps.

  • Back up a minimum of 10 steps to allow the horse to get into a rhythm.


Incorporate this exercise into your daily regime by backing your horse up before you ride.

To make this exercise harder, try backing up a slight gradient.

Good for:

Mobilising the lumbosacral joint and muscles and stimulating the sacroiliac region.

Walking Over a Raised Pole


  • To lift and flex the back, hip, shoulder and elbow, stifle and hock.

  • To strengthen the muscles and structures involved in engagement, hip flexion and pelvic stability.

  • To improve suppleness and flexibility through the shoulder and elbow, hip, stifle and hock.

gillian higgins horses inside out annotated photograph pilates for horses, raised walk pole, lumbosacral  core stability, back mobility, equine hip mobility

How to do it:

  • Slowly walk the horse over a pole on the ground.

  • Gradually raise it until it is around knee height.

  • Encourage the horse to lower his head to look at the pole.

  • This exercise can be performed in hand or ridden.

  • Perform on a daily basis.


Walking over a raised pole requires greater flexion in the horses joints than in trotting.

Place a raised pole in a location where the horse can regularly walk over it; for example to and from the field.

Good for:

Improving suppleness and flexibility through the shoulder and elbow, hip, stifle and hock.

To learn more about Pilates for Horses See the book HERE and the online videos HERE

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