Do you have a horse that always favors one lead over the other? Is your horse harder to bend or turn in a particular direction? Or perhaps your saddle is always slipping off to one side? If so, your horse may benefit from some simple rib cage mobilizing exercises. It is a very common problem for horses to be one-sided, kind of like being left- or right-handed. Performing some simple exercises each day may help your horse overcome that ingrained muslce memory and get them swinging freely through the ribs again.
When a horse habitually holds its ribs to one side, it makes certain movements harder for them. Things like lateral flexion on the side the ribs stick out on becomes very difficult. Holding the proper bend on that side is hard, their shoulder falls into the circle because their ribs are in the way. Higher level lateral movements and lead changes become a big fight, not because the horse is being obstinate, but because they simply can't move their ribs out of the way to allow for the proper position of their body to accommodate the movement.
This article is the first of two articles offering some very simple exercises or stretches that I like to do with horses who could benefit from a little more "swagger" in their step. I like to call this first exercise "The Belly Dance". It requires two people to do it properly. Each person stands across from each other on opposite sides of the horse, just behind the withers and in front of where the saddle girth would be. Stand facing each other with both arms resting against the sides of the horse (see illustration below). Your arm and body positions should mirror each other.
One person will start by gently "pushing" against the horse and the person on the opposite side will then gently send the ribs back the other way. In essence you are passing the ribs back and forth to each other. Repeat the movement once or twice and then move down just a little bit (about 2 vertebra) and repeat the process over again.
At first your horse may try and move around a little bit as they are trying to figure out what the heck you are trying to do. They will eventually figure out that you don't want them to do anything but stand still and you'll find they'll start to relax into it and really start swaying into the movements with you. It can feel really good to them. Just remember to be patient and go slow. Always keep the movements gentle and try and time the passing of the ribs back and forth so that it becomes kind of a dance. When you get to the lumbar area, you can change directions and go back towards the withers.
The entire process should take only about 15-20 minutes. As you do this exercise each day, you should notice your horse becomes more flexible and relaxed through the rib cage and hopefully that will start to translate into improvements with circles, lateral movements, leads and lead changes. Your horse will be more athletic and happy.
Read part 2 of this series here – http://www.heavenlygaitsequinemassage.com/rib-cage-mobilizing-exercises-horse-part-2/
The information in this article is not meant to diagnose, treat or cure any condition or illness. Nor is it meant replace proper veterinary care. It is meant for educational purposes only. Always consult your chosen veterinary professional before starting your horse or other animal on any therapy.
Lisa Carter is a Certified Equine Massage Therapist (CEMT), with multiple certifications from several different equine bodywork schools. She incorporates her knowledge and experience with Parelli Natural Horsemanship, equine bodywork, using essential oils for animals and as a veterinary technician to provide her clients with the resources they need to make informed decisions for their horses. She encourages and facilitates network building between equine health care professionals, working together to find the best combination of therapies to meet the needs of the "whole horse".
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