a) Thoracic lifts are aimed at strengthening the large postural muscles of the back to improve the horse’s topline. To do this, the handler uses one or two fingers to push on the bottom of the abdomen, usually in a midline position just back from the sternum. The fingers are pushed up into the abdomen, causing the horse to lift its abdomen and contract the muscles along the thoracic spine. The horse needs to hold this position for 5-10 seconds and then can relax before the lift is repeated 4-5 times.
b) Lumbosacral lifting users the sub lumbar muscles to round up the hind quarter when pressure is applied to a groove between two large muscles on the rump, approximately 15-20cm either side of the backbone, halfway between the point of the hips and the tail butt. Both sides can be stimulated at the same time causing the back to lift and pelvis to tilt backwards or one side can be done and then the other, causing a bending to the side stimulated as well as a lifting. The horse holds this position for 5-10 seconds and then relaxes before the pressure is applied again (repeated 4-5 times).
BALANCING AND STRENGTHENING EXERCISES
a) Tail Pulling is an exercise used to strengthen the pelvic muscles and improve balance. The tail is pulled to one side, pulling the horse’s weight onto the leg on the same side, causing the hip and stifle muscles to be activated as the horse resists the pull. The secret to this is to pull just hard enough that the horse shifts weight onto the limb but maintains pressure on the tail as it tries to shift back onto the other leg; it is not designed to pull the horse sideways or off balance.
b) Tail Pulling as the horse walks is an extension of (a) whereby the tail is pulled in a similar manner, but the horse is walking as it is done. If too much pressure is applied, the horse will be pulled off stride, which is not the desired effect. As a point of interest, this exercise can be conducted as a test for hindlimb weakness in “wobblers” as affected horses have no or very little strength to resist the pull and can be pulled almost sideways as they walk.
c) Caudal Tail Pulls: The handler stands behind the horse, pulling backwards on the tail to strengthen the middle gluteal muscles and pelvic muscles. The tail is pulled and held for 5 seconds and then released and repeated 5 times. Care should be taken with this exercise and only attempted on horses that are well handled (not those easily excitable or known kickers).
d) As the horse strengthens and performs these exercises with more ease, additional measures can be put in place to further increase the core benefits. One measure is to have a second person hold up a front leg while the tail is pulled to the side, requiring further stability and balance to maintain the position.
e) When horses are walked or trotted on an uphill incline, the hindlimbs take on more load. When they are walked or trotted downhill, it is the forelimbs, which are selectively loaded. Depending on where a horse is in his rehabilitation program, the use of an incline can be utilised to selectively strengthen or reduce the demand on a limb. Exercising a horse on a treadmill with a graduated incline can reduce the load on the forelimbs in horses that have had forelimb injuries. This means, however, that the hindlimbs are working harder and whilst this is good to build up the hindquarters, care must be taken to ensure any increase in demand on the limbs is done gradually and not excessively, as it can lead to injuries in the hindlimbs.