By JEC ARISTOTLE BALLOU – To improve the horse’s topline, you must strengthen the horse’s bottom line. As the horse’s bottom line strengthens, a series of postural changes results, namely the coiling of his loins, rounding his back, and lifting the base of his neck. Many riders mistakenly believe they must tone up the muscles along the horse’s spine that we sit upon. But these are not the muscles that lift and round the horse’s spine. The ones responsible for rounding the horse’s back and coiling his loins– rectus abdominis, the iliopsoas complex, and the longus colli-scalenus complex– are all located well below his spine. So, if you plan to tone your horse’s topline, you need to start with the lower part of his core area.
To do this, your time is equally well spent on unmounted gymnastics as well as actual riding exercises. Consistent daily calisthenics, while misleadingly seeming too simple to be effective, will go far in changing your horse’s topline for the better. In fact, when it comes to postural changes, unmounted calisthenics are sometimes more successful when trying to alleviate restrictions, build confidence, and recruit new nerve and muscle responses. Make a commitment to practice the following calisthenics every day to help improve your horse’s topline. I continue to do these movements daily with my own horses; it serves as their own form of yoga.
Practice three butt tucks daily (asking the horse by scratching with your finger tips above his tail dock to tuck his pelvis down and under). Then, ask the horse to stretch his neck all the way around to his stifle area on each side. Many riders call this popular maneuver a “carrot stretch.” If you use an equine chiropractor, he or she will have told you to practice these– with good reason! Then, back your horse up, with his neck in a lowered position so his poll is level with his withers, for 30 steps. If he struggles or gets very crooked, you can pause after 10 strides before continuing for a total of 30 steps. Lastly, mount up and allow your horse to walk on a longe rein with an unrestricted neck posture. Ride like this over a line of five ground poles spaced appropriately for his stride length, which for the average horse is 3 feet to 3.5 feet apart. Cross the poles 10 times like this, allowing the horse to swing and loosen his stride.
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