Home › Exercises for Spinal Problems in Horses

A few simple exercises can help horses keep better spinal health remember that horses are not always concentrating well on what you are doing and if you are not careful, or surprise them, they may kick out. Be wary of your position and don’t take any risks, always warn the horse of what you are going to do.

Neck muscle stretches. While mounted use the reins to turn your horse’s head gently to one side and slowly, as the muscles relax, increase the bending of the neck to that side. Hold 30 seconds. Repeat twice each side. (Do each time you ride)

Carrotpractics. Get your horse to follow a carrot around to its side so that, without turning its head onto one side but rather bending its neck, it bends right around to the point where it can almost bite the carrot at the point of its hip. Encourage the horse to keep this posture for 20-30 second and relax. Repeat twice each side. Also encourage the horse to follow a carrot down between its front legs, again holding for 20-30 seconds. Do daily for 14 days after treatment for neck stiffness and then gradually reduce down to twice a week.

Walking down slopes. Walking down hill slopes increases the sideways movement of the back. After chiropractic work start with gentle hill slopes and gradually work up to steeper and longer slopes. Steep slopes encourage a large sideway sway to the back. Go only as steep as the horse feels comfortable with, and gradually, over months, increase the amount of work the horse has to do.

Diagonal hill work. Get your horse to do extended walking and trotting diagonally across the rise of gentle slopes. This encourages better use of the sacro-iliac joints. Gradually increase the amount of work and amount of slope over months.

Lunging. While lunging on a short rein is hard on a horses back and sacro-iliac joints and is very likely to cause more harm than good, lunging on a long rein (15-20m radius) can be very valuable. In addition jump poles placed at stride and a bit intervals (say 1.2m) over a 1/4 of the circle can aid in getting the horse to stretch out better and thus be useful in regaining full use of the back and sacro-iliac joints after their mobility has been freed up. Start with ten minutes on each rein 3 times a week for 2 weeks & then increase to 4 times a week & 20min each rein. After a further 2 weeks lift poles onto flat bricks. Once back strength is good reduce to five minute warm up. Lunging at a canter is particularly good for building up the back muscles. (Though only if done on big circles.)

Rump Scratches. By applying pressure and scratching either side of the rump encourage the horse to arch its mid back upward. Once the back is up, scratch around the base of the tail so that the lift is maintained and the horse enjoys it. Do daily for 14 days after chiropractic work and then twice a week.

Chest lifts (sit ups for horses). Stand in front of, and to the side of the near foreleg. Using the point of your index finger run your fingers backwards between the horse's frontlegs until a depression is felt just in front of where the girth usually lies. Press upwards into this depression to make the horse pick up its chest and extend and drop the base of its neck. Scratch the belly gently for 30 sec, to encourage tightening of the belly muscles, allow to relax and repeat. Alternatively while the horse’s back is lifted with a rump scratch transfer one hand to the chest point and press up to ask a bit more lift out of the front of the horse’s chest. Use a similar frequency to the rump scratches.

General flexibility exercises. Once good flexibility is gained, shoulder in and serpentines can be of great value in increasing the flexibility of horses. Must be done with care and common sense.

Your horse will progress much more quickly with these if its body is first freed up using veterinary chiropractic and acupuncture.  Remember only do these exercises when the horse is free enough to do them.