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How to improve the Stride Quality of your Horse?

Research Review


Gymnastic Training and Dynamic Mobilization Exercises Improve Stride Quality and Increase Epaxial Muscle Size in Therapy Horses

full link below:


I am a massive advocate for keeping the training that you do with your horses varied, from a psychological and physiological perspective. The paper above supports this idea by testing two variables, stride length (SL) and epaxial muscle size in the lumbar area of nine therapy horses. The study looked specific gymnastic training and dynamic mobilisation exercises which are believed to strengthen the abdominal, sublumbar, and epaxial muscles. These pelvic stabiliser muscles help maintain correct alignment of the sacroiliac, hip and stifle joints, that are necessary for transmission of locomotor forces generated by the hind limb to the horse’s trunk (Stubbs and Clayton, 2008). The gymnastic exercisers (GYM) that were prescribed included:

* Caudal pelvic tilt (5x 5secs)

* Backing up (10 steps straight lines)

* Turning in small circles (tight turns 3x each way)

* Stepping over an obstacle at walk (40cm, 10mins, all directions)- 1x pole only

All these GYM exercises that I myself prescribe to my clients on a regular basis with ONE of the objectives being to increase stride length and quality.

The dynamic mobilisation exercises (DME) included: performed 5x for 5 secs

* Three cervical flexion exercises (chin to chest, chin between carpi, and chin to fore fetlocks)

* A cervical extension exercise and three lateral cervical bending exercises performed to the right and left sides (chin to shoulder, chin to flank, and chin to hind fetlock).

All exercises that are I prescribe with the aim of taking the spine through a wide range of motion and activate, strengthen and stabilise the muscles of the spine. These DME are associated with epaxial muscle hypertrophy

What were the results?

* SL significantly increased in the GYM group by 10.76 cm!

* Tracking distance significantly increased in the GYM group overall by 5.5cm!

* Thickness of the longissimus dorsi muscle did not change

* Cross sectional area (CSA) of the multifidus muscle increased in both the DME and GYM groups

Please note that the above results are an overview and if you want to read them in full, please click on the full article above. Overall, these results are very exciting and do support the advice given by many equine practitioners recommending GYM and DME. However we need to consider the following points below:

A few important factors to consider:

* small number size

* the horses used in the study are not relatable to all horses in work - they were therapy horses

* specific reps and sets were used in this study

* paper was published in 2015

Discussion of the results:

* SL and tracking distance improved stride quality

* Over track is linked to SL

* GYM exercises contributed to increasing SL

* Longissimus dorsi showed no hypertrophy- but this could be because the only gait used was walk.

* CSA of multifidus can be increased through DMEs - performing them only 3x per week.

What does this mean?

This study provides great preliminary results which show that performing GYM and DME only 3x per week will improve the stride length and tracking distance and therefore overall experience for the therapeutic riders. From a practitioner perspective this study does highlight that although we don't want to overload our owners with exercisers, we need to provide more than just DME and add in GYM exercises.

To further develop and improve our knowledge on GYM and DME exercises for horses, we need more research which is relatable to you and your horse. At the moment we are lacking specific and relative research to support and amount of pole and dynamic exercises available. One thing is for sure, doing something is better than nothing and that observing and listening to your horse whilst you are doing any GYM or DME is so important.

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