Core Strengthening & Rounding Exercises for Your Horse

Core strengthening and rounding exercices can benefit your horse both following injury and as a regular part of his conditioning program. Here, London, Ontario based registered physiotherapist and certified equine rehabilitation therapist, Andrea L. Scott, shares some simple exercises you can do at home with your horse.
Be sure to consult your veterinarian before beginning any of these exercises with your horse, especially if he has a history of musculoskeletal injury or neurological disease.

Photos by Rachael Pilon

Core Strengthening “Horse Sit-Ups” (sternal, withers and trunk lifting)

The purpose of the exercise is to strengthen the muscles that control the orse’s posture. These muscles also help to stabilize the spine and pelvis, the thoracic sling (serratus ventralis, pectoral muscles, subclavius) and abdominal muscles.

1.  Stand facing the horse’s side, just behind the elbow. The horse should be standing square.

2.  Apply an upward pressure with stiff fingers, grabbing the pectoral muscles in the middle of the chest. Squeeze your fingers in and out until the horse responds by lifting through the breast bone up to round the withers area. The amount of pressure will vary between horses.

3. Move the pressure back a little into the mid-girth. The horse will respond by lifting the thoracic area just behind the withers. As the pressure is moved back even further along the belly, the area under the saddle will lift.

4. The goal is to get the back to flatten by contracting the above muscles.

The position, which can be done daily, can be held for 10 seconds and repeated up to 10 times. I usually show my clients that this is easy to combine with grooming. As you are brushing your horse’s back, stop and do a “horse sit-up.” Brush a little more and do another sit-up!

Photo by Rachael Pilon

Chin to Chest

This exercises is done to increase range of motion of the upper and middle neck, and to activate the deep flexor muscles of the upper and middle neck.

1. Stand at the shoulder area. The horse should be standing square (When first learning this exercise, it might be helpful to start with the horse against a wall to encourage straightness).

2. Using a carrot as bait (wear gloves to protect your fingers!) have the horse follow the carrot towards the centre of the chest, towards his breast bone. Make sure that his head is straight and not tilted. 

When first learning this exercise, start with only a small amount of movement. Gradually, as your horse improves flexibility, you can ask for more movement. Allow the horse to relax for a few seconds between repetitions. Repeat up to five times each day.

Photo by Rachael Pilon

Chin Between the Knees

The purpose of this exercise is to increase range of motion of the middle and lower neck and to stimulate contraction of the deep neck flexors in this area.

1. Stand at the girth area, and pass your hand with the carrot between the horse’s knees. The horse will draw his head down between his knees. Make sure the head is not tilted.

2. Try to entice the head further back between the knees each time.  Allow a few seconds of relaxation between repetitions.

Repeat up to five times daily.

Photo by Rachael Pilon

Chin Between the Fetlocks

This is done to increase range of motion of the lower neck and activate and strengthen the deep flexor muscles of the lower neck.

1. Stand behind the horse’s elbow. Make sure the horse is standing square. Pass your hand with the carrot between the horses fetlocks, drawing head between the fetlocks.

2. Gradually increase the amount of rounding by drawing the carrot further back. Allow a few seconds of rest in between exercises.

Repeat up to five times daily.

Photos by Rachael Pilon

Low Back and Pelvic Rounding

The purpose of this exercise is to increase mobility of the lumbar spine and to stimulate the abdominal and iliopsoas muscles to flex and lift the lower back and round the haunches.

1. Stand at the side of the horse close to the flank. Apply pressure in the centre over the vertebral spines from the tailhead up forward to the base of the lumbar spine.

2. Use your thumbnail or the blunt rounded edge of a hoof pick to apply a firm steady pressure down on the spines.

3. Allow the back to sink back down into the resting position before repeating the exercise.

4. Repeat up to five times daily.




To learn more about the benefits of physiotherapy for your horse, check out the article “Equine Rehabilitation” in the 2012 Canadian Horse Annual.

Visit to learn more about Andrea L. Scott, M.A., BMR-PT, CERT