“I wanted to work on Dio’s muscles today but I can’t be bothered to set up ground poles.” “You know there’s more to life than ground poles!!! Flatting and dressage are great for building muscles!” Ok, we have used ground poles a lot in the exercises we showed you so far. But this time we’re doing it without any equipment! I’m giving you 4 dressage exercises to build muscles. Hang on and prepare Dio because his muscles are going to burn 🔥.
Lateral work is a great muscle building tool for horses
Yes, I can already see some of you jumping riders scowl when you read “lateral work” but you can’t underestimate these exercises on a musculation point of view.
A little refresher first and some definitions:
- Adduction is when the leg gets closer to the middle of the body, so when the leg gets closer to the other leg
- Abduction is the opposite, when the leg gets away from the middle of the body, so when it gets further away from the other leg
In this case, lateral work will:
- Make the adductor et abductor muscles work, which means all the muscles moving the shoulders and the hips
- Mobilise the protraction muscles, which means the muscles allowing the legs to stretch forward
- Mobilise the propulsion muscles
- Is going to cause an important trunk rotation which makes the chest cavity muscles work when they try to oppose this movement
- will make the entire neck lateral flexion muscles work those trying to oppose it on the outside 
📚 Learn more: 5 exercices for muscle reinforcement
I won’t go into too much details but to put it shortly, every lateral work exercises will help your horses build up muscles. It’s kind of like body-building!! And it makes your horse gain in rachis suppleness so it’s great.
Let’s get started on the exercises:
Exercise #1 – Shoulder-in, half-pass, shoulder-in, half-pass…
This exercise consists in doing, in a diagonal line, 3 shoulder-in strides then 3 half-pass strides then shoulder-in then half-pass.
This exercise is really helpful to start learning the half-passes because it prevents the horse from leading with its quarters. It also allows the rider to correct the bend during the half-pass.
From a muscle and biomechanical point of view it’s really interesting. Indeed, the shoulder-in and the half-pass on the same side are opposed and complementary. If we take the example of the right hind leg on a right half-pass, the abductors will pull the hind leg out and forward. Once the leg touches the grounds, it will pull the rest of the body thanks to the adductor muscles. For the shoulder-in, it’s the opposite: the hind leg will first make an adduction (in and forward) and when it touches the ground push the horse’s body in abduction.
Doing these exercises one after the other is then extremely taxing physically. And it will help the horse gain in responsiveness to your legs.
Exercise #2 – Turns across the arena with halt, reinback and half-turn on the quarters
This dressage exercise is the ideal exercise to approach collection. Once again, it’s extensive on a muscle standpoint. I do this exercise often and let me tell you: it turns any horse to a compact ball of nerves.
The principle is simple: at walk, walk across the arena width. A few steps after the middle line stop, reinback a few steps and start again while you keep the tension on the rein. Do a small half circle with the quarters in at the end of the side, and start again.
As I already mentioned in the back muscles article, reinbacks are a perfect exercise to work on abdominals and the lumbo-sacral joint suppleness. It prepares the horse for collected work by flexing the entire hind chain.
Transitions also help build your horse’s muscles!
Inter-gait transitions are really good when they are done correctly. Indeed, they induce work for the abdominal and the gluteal muscles, and the chest muscles which help keep the forehand light!
Exercise #3 – Close trot-canter transitions
Efficient exercise if your horse is kind of asleep. It will also help the rider learn aid discretion.
It’s easy to understand. On a circle, alternate a canter phase then 5 trot strides. This canter phase starts at 10 strides, and diminishes as you go. The goal is to only have one canter stride!
Here’s a video to show you:
If need be, don’t hesitate to start over a few times before decreasing the number of canter strides. You’ll see, when you manage to do only one stride, you’ll feel invincible!
You can also try the “walk-canter” and “walk-trot” variations which are pretty good as well.
Exercise #4 – Halt – Extended trot transitions
Last exercise to work on propulsion with the gluteal and abdominal muscles (so the back muscles).
It simply consists in going directly at extended trot from halt. You can also add a few reinback strides beforehand and you get a plyometric exercise.
Here you go, you have some ideas for exercises you can try in order to turn your horse into a true body-builder!
By the way, did you know you can find all of these exercises on the Equisense mobile App so you always have ideas of exercises to do? Download it for iOS or Android, it’s free 🤗
See you soon for another article,
R&D Leader at Equisense