Horse Strengthening Exercises
Walk your horse over poles, logs, or other obstacles. The obstacles should be high (although not so high as to cause difficulty) and the distances between them varied. The tall heights work various muscles in the horse's neck, back, and rump, while the varying distances will cause him to adjust his stride, giving a gymnastic effect.
2. Leg Lifts
Pick a cue spot on the leg (often the fetlock) and gently tap there with a whip. As soon as the horse even thinks about moving that leg, praise and rest, shaping that slight try into a full leg lift. Alternate between legs, asking for higher and higher lifts. Lifting the front legs strengthens the neck and shoulders, while lifting the hind legs develops the rump and back muscles for collection.
3. Goat on a Mountain
This is easiest done on a pedestal or similar object (and then the process of training is relatively self-explanatory) but also may be taught on the flat, with the goal for the hind feet to come all the way up to the front hooves. Tap a hind leg (change the cue spot from Exercise #2, however) and praise and rest the moment the horse moves the foot forward. Back him up to get him out of position and shift his weight back, then ask again. When one foot can consistently move forward, ask for the other foot to come forward as well (you may have to switch sides to clarify your cue). This exercise is an invaluable aid for strengthening weak backs, developing rump muscles, and improving balance.
4. Belly Lifts
Take a long towel and fold it lengthwise, passing one end under the horse's belly and over his back so both ends are on one side (or, use a helper to hold the towel on the other side). Position the towel at the girth groove and very slowly lift up. When the horse's back lifts, hold it for a few seconds, then let it down very slowly. Move the towel six inches back and repeat. This exercise strengthens the horse's back and belly muscles.
5. Pelvic Tucks
Find the two grooves in the horse's buttock muscle that are about a hand's width from the base of the tail. Take the ends of two wooden spoons (or your thumbs and/or index fingers, if they're strong) and slowly but very firmly push into the top of the grooves. Slowly slide the pressure down the horse's buttocks, keeping it up until he tucks his pelvis and lifts his back. A variation on this is merely pressing, or scratching in fast, tight circles, at the top of the grooves and not sliding down at all.
6. Backing Softly
To best strengthen the horse, backing must be done correctly, with the horse's neck soft and arched and his legs moving in diagonal pairs. To encourage softness, position the horse with his rump against a fence, and gently "sponge" the lead rope from side to side, not forward and back -- do not pull his head in. Release and praise the moment the horse softens his neck, and work until he can maintain that softness while backing. If, when backing, the horse moves only one foot at a time, it means he is not comfortable backing or is pulling against the halter. To develop backing in diagonal pairs, work on softness in the horse's neck (as explained), softness in the back up, and slightly more speed, praising and resting the moment he begins to back in diagonals. A horse may back up to 40 feet for optimal development of the back and rump muscles, but work up to it slowly.
7. Turning and Backing
When your horse can back up freely, ask him to back in a circle. Face your horse while he backs up slowly, and as his outside front leg leaves the ground, ask him to take a step to the outside. If he gets confused or unbalanced, stop and ask again when he's calm. Slowly add more steps until your horse can back in a full circle. In addition, have your horse back up straight, and ask him, as he is backing, to cross his forehand over and continue backing (it may help to hold a whip in your hands with which to drive him over). These exercises shift the horse's weight back and develop the topline muscles.
8. Backing Transitions
When your horse leads and backs freely with a soft feel, develop walk-back-walk transitions, with no halt at any time. As your horse is walking, ask him to back with halter pressure, simultaneously "luring" him back with a treat to get the instant soft back up. Praise and treat, and repeat. When the walk-back transition is smooth, lure the horse back but then instantly lure him forward again (along with a halter cue), praising and treating when he walks forward out of the back, refining until treats are no longer needed. Then develop trot-back-trot transitions. These transitions compress your horse's whole body, developing many muscle groups.
9. Sit Ups
To encourage your horse to lift his sternum and chest, press under his belly in the depression just in front of where the girth lies. Combine this with doing quick press-and-releases on the groove along the horse's belly, so that he lifts both his shoulders and back.
10. Tight Serpentines
Walk your horse in very tight serpentines, but ensure that the horse walks straight after each turn. (This is easiest done from the saddle, but may be done on the ground.) The turns should be tight enough that the horse has to really bend his neck and shoulders, but not so tight that he begins pivoting. Do not pull the horse around. Tight serpentines develop the horse's balance and coordination, and supple his entire body.
"Do you give the horse his strength?"