In the saddle The obvious, and most common time you will notice whether your horse is supple, is during ridden work and without this flexibility, you will find it hard to get a true connection with your horse. That’s why suppling a horse is important; you want your horse to be soft and nimble through his poll, neck, shoulders and hips.
The idea is to enhance the elasticity and power of his natural paces through specific exercises for horses, and when the joints are moved in a systematic way, the muscles surrounding them will gradually stretch and become more flexible. Regular and consistent training, in balance, can also help improve muscle memory, which is when nerves remember physical postures and movements, and this will help develop your training.
When the horse is engaged, or working towards engagement, he can develop his core and an even muscle structure, which allows him to be supple through his joints and perform more gymnastically and in harmony. The link between balance and suppleness is very close and should be worked on together through specific suppling exercises for horses. If your horse is unbalanced, he will have to carry his weight unevenly, which will have an adverse effect on muscular development and subsequently cause him to be tighter in some areas.
If your horse has one stiff, and one softer side, as is so often the case, work can be done to lengthen the muscles on the soft side, and strengthen the muscles on the stiffer side. There are many suppling exercises for horses you can do to help encourage more flexibility in your horse.
Depending on your experience, we recommend enrolling the assistance of a qualified riding instructor who will support and train your horse with suppleness exercises that have been designed to release tension. Even professional riders will still have lessons for, ‘eyes on the ground,’ as this can be invaluable when schooling and teaching a horse. By incorporating change of bend through patterns such as figures of eight, serpentines and half circles, combined with lots of transitions, and lateral work such as turn on the forehand, leg yielding and shoulder-in, you can help work on suppleness in the saddle through a variety of suppleness exercises for horses.
On the ground
A less obvious time to help improve suppling a horse is when on the ground. Stretching exercises are a great way of helping support mobility in an injury-free equine, and research suggests that by performing stretching exercises on a regular basis, you can help reduce muscular discomfort and tension which limits the risk of injury and helps maintain a happy horse. By using simple stretches, such as neck stretches, you can help create engagement in the muscles and build up strength and suppleness over a period of time.
Stretches should only ever be performed on warm muscles and never forced. The idea is to encourage your horse to stretch within his limits and gradually progress over time to a deeper stretch. There are several neck stretches that you can carry out, to the girth, between the legs, and out in front – all of which help to encourage a suppleness and softness through the neck, spine and poll areas. We particularly like this video here. It is important to learn how to stretch properly before you attempt it with your horse.
If you are in any doubt as to how to perform any suppleness exercises for horses then seek the advice of your veterinarian, physiotherapist or equine massage therapist.
From the inside out
Nutrition is something that can be overlooked when it comes to encouraging a supple horse, however as we all know, a healthy outside comes from a healthy inside. By supporting your horse with the correct nutrients in his diet, you can help maintain a supple and comfortable equine that is willing to perform.
Joint supplements may be beneficial alongside a variety of different horse suppling exercises. Joint supplements will supply the correct nutrients to encourage strong, healthy and flexible joints, enabling your horse to perform comfortably and to his maximum capability. Even in younger horses that may not be showing classical signs of stiffness, feeding a joint support product may help improve their trainability and potential to work in a supple and balanced way.
Do you have any exercises you regularly perform to help keep your horse supple? Please share them with us in the comments below or by posting on our Facebook page.