6 Simple Exercises to Strengthen Your Horse's Hind Quarters

A key component to a healthy horse is having strong hind quarters. This is the main powerhouse and source of propulsion for the horse, which can mean winning or losing when it comes to timing an event to the thousandth, such as barrel racing. Weakness in the hind quarters can greatly affect a horse’s performance, not only from a speed standpoint, but weakness can also cause pain or soreness.

How do you know if your horse has weak hind quarters?

  • Look for muscle atrophy or where the muscle looks like it has wasted away. This can be from weakness, illness (EPM), previous injury, or poor nutrition.
  • Watch them walk from behind, paying close attention to their hips and hocks. Does one hip drop further than another when they step? Do their hocks swing when they bear weight on that leg? These are signs of weakness in the hips or soreness in the hocks or stifles. If you notice this, I recommend having your vet examine the horse for joint issues before you start the exercise program outlined below. Your horse will respond better to the program if it has the proper medical care (possible joint injections, etc.) along with these exercises.

Here are six simple exercises to do at least three times per week to help strengthen your horse:

  • Stretching: The more flexible your horse is, the easier it is for your horse to do its job and to strength the targeted muscles. To stretch the hind limbs, follow these guidelines. Try to hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds if the horse will let you. If this is new to them or they are sore, this might not be very easy to start with, but do the best you can without getting hurt.
    • Stretch the leg forward as if you are trying to touch the opposite front leg with the back hoof.
    • Stretch the leg backward like you would if you were cleaning out his hoof. I find this to be the safest way to stretch the horse back.
    • Stretch into high flexion. This is where you pull the leg up under the hip, flexing the hock and stifle. This is great for horses who are lacking range of motion in their hind legs and drag their toes.
    • “Baited Carrot” stretches. Basically they are stretching their necks to reach a tasty treat. Many horses do not like carrots or apples, but some green grass or alfalfa works well too. Have the horse reach back to the cinch, flank, hip, and between its front legs for stretching of the topline, rib cage, and neck.
  • Butt tucks: Standing at your horse’s hind end, but off to the side, run your fingernails down the horse’s rump along the muscle crease. This will encourage them to round their back and tuck their tail. Watch this video for a demonstration of how to do this exercise.
  • Tail pulls: Standing at your horse’s hind end, grab the horse’s tail and pull sideways with a strong, but steady pull. Hold this for ten seconds; repeat ten times.
  • Slow and steady backing: Back your horse in a straight line with a slow and steady pace. If you can find a gentle incline to back up that would make this exercise slightly more difficult.
  • Riding over ground poles or raised poles: This encourages your horse to actively lift its legs and engage muscles of the hind quarters for better ground clearance and range of motion.
  • Hills: The most challenging hind quarter strengthening is walking or trotting up hills. Incorporating hills into your riding routine can also be beneficial for strengthening, but if you add too much too soon, you can make your horse sore from this. Think about your first time at the gym after having time off…we call it delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS. Realize that your horse may get some soreness from a new exercise routine, so make the changes gradually.

If you have any questions in regards to any of the above exercises, please feel free to contact us through our website or through our Pivot Point Equine Rehab Facebook page.

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