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MoheganSun 12-07-2010 09:21 PM

HorseHelp: Building up your horses back, In-hand and Under Saddle
Hello everyone! I am new to this particular forum, (I have been on other forums however) and I noticed a poster on my friend's thread (Ultimate Horse Training; From the Ground Up + OTTBS) who asked about building up their horse's back muscles! I personally struggled with this; my young Morgan mare was extremely under-muscled when I met her, and her conformation and lack of consistent work in with proper self-carriage led to a very dipped, 'sway' back. Exhibit A:
And, using these exercises, the result after several months:
As you can see, this is a stunning result for only a few months! The dip behind her withers has filled, and you can yell (even under the winter fuzzies!) that the overall muscling has drastically improved.

  • Before you begin, it is important for safety reasons, and for the exercises to be effective, that your horse be properly trained with good grounds manners and respect for the handler's commands.
  • One of the best exercises you can do for a horse that lacks muscle is hillwork. To begin, find a small hill that isn't very steep (you can start with steeper hills in a few weeks) and slowly lead your horse up, then down repeatedly. Make sure your horse is properly using himself, with his head lowered and back lifted. Continue this exercise for about ten minutes. Over the next week, increase the workout to 15, 20, 25, and 30 minutes.
    1) Try backing up the hill; this is harder work and even better for the back muscles!
    2) Try this exercise under saddle; it is great work for horse and rider, just make sure
    A: The horse is in proper self-carriage and balance, with his head lowered and back and withers lifted, and
    B: The rider is in proper posture to help his/her horse up the hill- with the weight in the stirrups, slightly leaned forward so that the back is vertical, as if lined up with any trees growing out of the hill.
  • Trotting in-hand "long and low":
    (Google image)
    Trot your horse slowly over flat ground (dirt roads or verges are a perfect option, of course, only if your horse is desensitized to traffic!), following the same rules as hillwork. Start with 10 minutes, and increase as stamina increases. Trot work is fantastic for building the back muscles!
    1: Try this over ground poles, as long as your horse is safe over them in-hand, and trots instead of jumping!
    2: "long and low" Trot work is fantastic under saddle for building up the back.
  • "Back Lifts"
    This is one of the most beneficial exercises I found for my mare; and very relaxing! As part of Mohegan's daily massage and yoga sessions, I began introducing back lifts to build the muscles in her back and teach her to hold the 'lifted' back position while standing still.
    To do a back lift with your horse: Make sure your horse is very relaxed. A tense horse will not cooperate with you manipulating their body! Always warm up the horse's muscles before doing a back lift. To warm up, I love using cross-fiber massage- this is when you lightly rake your fingertips against the 'grain' or fiber of the muscle. So, as a horse's back muscles flow straight back from front to back, you must lightly rake from top to bottom:
    (Edited Google Image)
    When you have warmed up the horse's back sufficiently, you can start with the back lifts. place your hands under his girth area, hands in a clawlike position, and lightly circle your fingertips under his sternum. If done properly, this tickles the horse and causes him to lift his back. There should be a visible difference. Once he lifts his back, praise him with words and petting. Repeat this and have him hold it for five seconds. As his stamina builds, you can increase the hold to 20 seconds.

Thanks for reading, and I hope this helps you and your horse! Feel free to comment below with any questions. Happy Riding!

DubyaS6 12-07-2010 10:42 PM

Very useful information!


MoheganSun 12-08-2010 08:36 AM

My pleasure!

kitten_Val 12-08-2010 10:21 AM

Thanks for posting!

The massage part is interesting. I gonna try it.

I know you can lift the back (I remember my trainer in very beginning of my training with her lifted my horse up - that was a funny feeling should I add), however I didn't know it builds muscles.

MoheganSun 12-08-2010 12:29 PM

No problem!

It very slowly builds up muscle, depending on how often you do it, but more importantly it teaches the horse to start lifting their back on their own, so they unknowingly build muscle out at pasture! after a couple of months, my mare started lifting her back on her own- they find it is much more comfortable than having it hollowed all the time!
My mare's back was in such bad condition that the first few times I did these lifts with her, there were loud popping noises in her spine- and a huge sigh of relief from her!

westerncowgurl 12-08-2010 12:55 PM

this is really interesting ill have to try this with my horse :) thanks for shareing this!

MoheganSun 12-08-2010 02:20 PM

:D Thanks for reading!

kpptt2001 12-08-2010 02:29 PM

Great post! Funny, I always suggest hill work, poles etc. to people but you have expanded on these really well and added so many other elements such as the back stretch - fantstic! ...and welcome to the forum by the way!! :) Looking forward to more of your posts! ha-ha

tempest 12-08-2010 02:32 PM

just subscribing.

Hunter65 12-08-2010 03:58 PM

Thanks for Sharing. I had to do a double take at the picts of your horse. She is identical in coloring to a Morgan mare I used to ride.

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