Strengthening your horse’s hind end


Many horses that have soundness challenges or general “hind end weakness” I see it alot during lessons and training. The majority of these horses are in the prime years of their life. At 10-15 years old, they still have many good years ahead if we can assist them in developing better balance and strength. Conformation issues can slow some horses down, but many are able to live comfortably and carry a rider if some time is spent focussing on building up their bodies.

One of the key components to a healthy body is the hind quarters, or hind end of the horse. This massive “spring box” is essentially the horse’s primary source of propulsion. There are a few simple exercises that can benefit most horses that seem weak in the hind end.

Signs to look for:

Watch your horse move on his own in the paddock, as well as during work or riding. Some horses will have obviously wasted muscles. Quite a few years ago way before any of us knew about PSSM1 (Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy), I had a mare that would occasionally tie up, I thought is was a desease that back then was known as Monday Morning desease – (Equine exertional rhabdomyolysis ER, also known as tying up, azoturia, or Monday morning disease). It is a syndrome that damages the muscle tissue in horses. It is usually due to overfeeding a horse carbohydrates and appears to have a genetic link. Don’t you think it is very similar to PSSM1? It was called this because of the workload the horses would do during the week, have the weekend off and then back into work again on the Monday, this would bring about the horse tying up and not being able to move. I’m willing to bet it’s PSSM1 but back in the early 1900’s no one knew about PSSM1, I mean, it wasn’t really known about until around 20/25 years ago, at least I didn’t know about it back then. PSSM1 is a dominant autosomal hereditary condition that can cause a genetic form of tying-up with muscle damage and inability to move. … Some horses make and store abnormal muscle glycogen and cannot tolerate dietary starches and sugars. This mare of mine lost the whole of one side of the muscles in her rump after giving birth to her first foal. I used to treat her with electrolytes and injections from my vet. I was oblivious to PSSM1?

These horses along with the usually healthy 10 – 15 year old could use strengthening exercises as well as a closer look at their nutrition, to be sure they are receiving enough nutrients to develop and maintain adequate muscle tone. PSSM1 should of course be ruled out by getting a blood or hair sample to get the all clear.

5 Exercises For Strengthening Your Horse’s Hind End

1. The more supple and flexible the horse is, the easier it will be for him to build correct muscles. Stretching movements that lengthen the hind limbs create more reach, and, therefore, more strength. When the horse becomes supple, he will relax in his work, which alleviates tension, allowing him to stretch evenly and in balance.

2. A quality rein-back that is slow and precise will build strength in the hind end. Be careful when you do this, make sure if you are just starting these exercises that you graduate your horse into them. I had one collapse their backend in slow motion on me and topple over backwards on me in the slowest movements. I still have the war wound in my inner thigh from the horn of the western saddle so please, don’t jump in head first – take it slowly.

If you have some nearby small inclines you can back your horse up them to strengthen them. A few even steps backwards uphill during regular sessions will improve muscle tone in his Gluteus Superficialis and Biceps Femoris muscles. This exercise can be done under saddle or in-hand. Avoid pulling on the reins to back your horse, as this causes his back to drop and restricts his hind end. Instead, try using a rope around the base of his neck that you can lift to help him move more correctly, or a whip that you can lightly tap against his chest if you are on the ground with them.

3. Riding over raised poles (cavaletti) is helpful for developing strength in the horse that has weak stifles or hocks. The slow action of lifting the hind legs up and over the pole will strengthen the Tensor muscle as well as the Long Digital Extensor. Both muscle groups are responsible for the stability of the stifle. Small jumps can also be of benefit, as the horse rocks his weight back onto his hind end in preparation to take off at the jump. The action of jumping is more important than jumping great heights, as a small jump can be easier to land in balance.

4. Many horses enjoy butt tucks or “Gluteal stretches.” This exercise is usually simple for the horse, as they just stand and let their human do most of the work. The goal is to create a stretch that opens up the horse’s pelvic angles, accessing the iliopsoas and gluteal muscles. Stand behind your horse (carefully!) and place your hands a few inches to either side of the base of the tail. Slowly rub your fingers down the muscle repeatedly, increasing pressure each time until you begin to notice a response. You should see your horse’s lower back lift and his pelvis tilt slightly. This massage-type movement is great to do before and after riding.

5. Leg lifting is another exercise that does not involve a lot of movement, therefore, can be utilized with horses who are on stable rest, are coming back into work, or just as an additional way to strengthen the hind end. Standing still with your horse against the rail; ask him to lift one hind leg. It becomes fairly easy to request the leg lift for longer periods of time. Engaging the limb in a raised flexion strengthens the opposite leg holding the horse up in weight bearing mode, as well as strengthening the lifted leg which accesses muscles within the entire leg.

From Go To Whoa

Book on training your own horse.


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I am a retired professional horse trainer, active Certified rider coach, I coach riders and their horses throughout Australia and New Zealand, I am the author of the book From Go To Whoa - Training Your Own Horse, I am also a Certified Nutritionist and a professional Keto Coach. I am a keen fisher woman and I love the gym where I weight train 4 days a week. I travel Australia full time now with my husband and our Jack Russell Doug, booking and holding clinics and lessons throughout the country for many remote horse riders as well as not so remote. I love coaching riders and their horses along with helping people with nutrition and the ketogenic diet.

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