Pole Work For Equine Rehab: Part 1
By Siun Griffin, Equine Physiotherapist and LCAO Community Manager
For horses that need rehab, strengthening of the thoracic slight and proprioception improvement, pole work is one of the best exercises you can combine with treatment from an equine osteopath.
Pole work can help strengthen the muscles, and improve posture. The ideal way to start this is when working the horse in hand, preferably by long reining them. Long reining helps ensure the horse stays in a nice rhythmic walking pace and helps with straightness.
After several weeks of this and when your horse is ready, you can proceed to ridden pole work. How long you do this will depend on your horse’s condition and progress.
Here are the main benefits of pole work:
1. Muscle strengthening
Pole work exercises help to build strength in the horse's hindquarters, particularly the gluteal, quadriceps, and hamstring muscles. The forelimbs also benefit from the exercises as the shoulder and triceps muscles are activated to lift the legs higher over the poles.
And of course the thoracic sling is engaged, improving topline and abdominal muscles.
2. Improves posture
Pole work exercises encourage a horse to engage its core muscles, by lowering its neck and lifting its back. This helps to improve their posture. This, in turn, helps to prevent injuries and improve the horse's overall movement.
This combined with improved muscle strength will help the horse carry a rider better and reduce compensations occurring.
Proprioception is the horse's ability to sense the position and movement of its limbs. Pole work exercises help to improve this ability as horses must accurately place their feet over the poles, which requires coordination and balance.
How To Start Pole Work Rehab
One thing to keep in mind is that going faster to achieve results isn’t necessary when long- reining. Doing in-hand work in this way works very well using a nice forward walk. Focus on keeping a steady rhythm, straightness and correct bending around corners.
It can be a slow process, but over a few weeks you will start to see improvements in the horse’s muscle, posture, and stride.
Many horses tend to enjoy this work. It keeps them interested without putting too much pressure on them. There are also endless pole configurations and patterns that you can do.
When first starting out, it is best to work over single poles. You can then make things more complex as the horse gets used to long reining and makes physical improvements.
In part 2, we will include some pole exercises that you can try.
For more information on how you can become an Equine Osteopath, click here