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What is core stability in horses?

A horse’s core.

What, why and how is this relevant to us?

Core stability refers to the strength and coordination of the muscles that support the horses spine, pelvis and abdomen. The core muscles are responsible for stabilising the horses body during movement and maintaining balance. A strong core can help horses, perform athletic manoeuvres, prevent injuries and maintain soundness.

No matter what your discipline is, core stability is the foundation to a healthy and strong back. A weak or unstable core can lead to injury, poor performance and other musculoskeletal issues.

What makes up the core muscles of a horse?

  • thoracic sling

  • Abdominal muscles

  • Pelvic stabilises

  • Deep ventral m

The thoracic sling muscles include:

Image 1: muscles part of the thoracic sling

Image 2: muscles part of the thoracic sling

As there is NO BONE attaching the forelimb of the horse to the rest of skeleton, the thoracic sling muscles play a very important role in supporting the forehand between the front legs. The function of the thoracic sling muscles is to lift and lighten the thorax between the forelimbs at the withers. Training our horses, no matter what the age, breed or intended discipline should focus on specific exercises to strengthen the muscles of the thoracic sling.

The abdominal muscles (see image 3-5 below) depending on their attachment play an important role in back health, defecation, giving birth, expiration and supporting the abdomen. It is no surprise that horse’s with weak abdominals will struggle to carry the weight of a saddle and rider. When engaged and strong the abdominals help lift the back not only in rider carrying ability but in more complex movement patterns like eventing and dressage.

Image 3: muscles part of abdominals

Image 4: muscles part of abdominals

Image 5: muscles part of abdominals

Pelvic Stabiliser Muscles:

These are also known as the sub lumbar muscles and consists of the iliopsoas muscle group. (See image 6 below).

Image 6: Sub lumbar muscles

The Iliopsoas muscle group connects the back and pelvis providing support and stability allowing them to function at a higher capacity without sustaining injury. This muscle group maintains posture and creates flexion in the lumbar sacral junction and hip. Personally I feel this group of muscles is often overlooked, especially when it comes to horses that struggle with cantering, lifting their core and reining back.

Deep vertebral muscles (see image 7 below);

Image 7: Deep vertebrae muscles

This group of muscles have different functions depending on their insertion and origin point. The multifidus maintains individual vertebral posture and stability, it is highly innervated and sensitive to changes in the alignment of individual  vertebrae. Back pain in horses can cause atrophy of the multifidus, which may lead to other muscles such as the longissimus dorsi taking over the role, however as this is a movement m rather than a stabilising m, there will be significant compromise in spinal health and integrity.

In summary, even though I have highlighted the main muscles of the core, we can’t ignore that the horse’s body moves as one. It is a complex multifactorial system that when functioning correctly can give us so much joy, however to ride any horse is an honour. It is our responsibility to listen to our horses. Watch their behaviours carefully and figure out what they are trying to tell us.

The easiest way to help your horse’s spine is to ensure their core is strong and stable. Daily testing can be done to help you notice the subtle changes in their posture, before it’s too late!

If you would like to find out more, please send me an email “core stability” to:

Join us LIVE on Monday 29th May 2023 @19:00pm to find out which SPECIFIC exercises YOU can do to develop a strong core for your horse.

Click on the link below to reserve your seat.

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