This is one thing I've always really struggled with, with Erik. He has a tendency to evade working over his back, he likes to think he's a smaller version of a Giraffe. What does this mean for me, it's bloody hard work! What does it means for him? A whole boatload of problems that could be detrimental to his well-being. Do you need help too? Read our latest tips to help encourage your horse to work over his back more:
Tip no. 1: Spend quality time warming up properly or your on the road to nowhere. I know I harp on about this all the time but it's so important your warm up your horse correctly prior to exercising. This helps to loosen up his muscles preparing for the work ahead. Ensure you allow a good 10 minutes of stretchy loose walk then start your trot. Finish with a steady canter in a light seat. (Read my previous blog on How to warm up your horse correctly HERE).
Tip no. 2: Transitions. These are one of the most important exercises you can do to help your horse and the more you do, the better! Transitions can be both within and out of the pace so make sure you vary it. Essentially they encourage your horse to use his entire body and engage his hind quarters, they also help him mentally to relax and focus on the task at hand. Take care you are riding them quietly but positively. 'Busy' riding or over-riding could develop more tension which you want to avoid. Try doing some as your stretch him, this should be easier for him.
Tip no. 3: Pole work. These can either be raised or flat but they help to encourage him to lift his back and use his pelvis more. Maintain a good rhythm whilst doing so, it's easy for them to get carried away and run over them. You're looking to feel those few moments of suspension as you trot or canter over them.
Tip no. 4: Suppling exercises. Does the term leg yield fill you with dread? Don't panic! It's never an easy movement to ride, but lateral work is beneficial. Try easier movements first such as smaller circles and serpentines to help him become more supple. It's hard for horses to attempt the harder lateral movements when they are stiff. Think of your smaller circles and serpentines as building blocks for the future.
Tip no. 5: Make sure you work him evenly. Your horse will prefer one bend to the other, mine tends to over bend like a banana on the left rein and is reluctant on the right. So it's really important to keep your schooling sessions equal but maybe do things in short bursts. Do not spend 20 minutes on the left rein in one go and only 5 minutes on the right! Think about your training.
Tip no. 6: Long reining, lunging or working from the ground can be really beneficial. Any work where he hasn't got the extra pressure on his back makes things easier for him. So if you're really struggling or becoming frustrated consider some ground work where he can stretch his muscles rider free!
Other things to consider for back health:
Feeding hay from the floor: This is a more natural way for your horse to eat plus it allows him to stretch his neck and back muscles.
Mounting from a block: Mounting from the floor puts extra pressure on your horses back. Try mounting from a greater height such as a mounting block, as it prevents your horse tensing/bracing as you get on.
Regular saddle checks: Always make sure you keep your saddle in tip top condition and get it checked by a saddler. Horses change shape and an ill fitting saddle can cause a mountain of back issues.
Grooming: Regular grooming allows you to examine your horse thoroughly. It's easier to notice an areas of tightness or pain when you're doing this, you can then alert your physiotherapist and maybe get him checked over.
Consider yourself: It's not surprising to hear that if you have back pain, tightness and struggle with your core this can have a knock on effect to your horse. Do those stretches before you get on, if your experiencing pain get your back checked too! Your seat in the saddle has a huge effect on your horses way of going, make sure it helps, not hinders.