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Exercises for Building Back Muscles

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  • Exercises for Building Back Muscles

    I'm actually an eventer, but I figured I'd post here since this is more of a dressage question

    I have a 5 year old OTTB. In early Oct she started have a mysterious and mild lameness which as gotten worse over time. I took her into get a bone scan last week and we found TONs of stuff. We gave her a bunch of joint injections which we're (really, really, really) hoping are going to help her.

    One of the main areas of concern is her SI joint- it was pretty hot on the bone scan, and when we did the joint injection the vet hit a bunch of scar tissue. That combined with all her other plethora of injuries is leading us to believe she had a nasty wreck during her track career.

    She is getting a couple more weeks off, and then the vet said I should start bringing her back to work with a big focus on building the muscles along her topline and SI joint.

    Prior to early Oct we had a pretty nice topline going, but it was still a work in progress for sure. By the time we get back to work, she'll have had 3 full months completely off (but she's still been having her turnout).

    Any suggestions on exercises I could do that will help her topline without being too stressful as she's coming back to work? She's only up to training level dressage, so she doesn't know anything fancy yet

    Thanks for the help!
    Cascadia- OTTB mare. 04/04-05/10
    If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever

  • #2
    I'd be interested in hearing about exercises you were given to build strength and flexibility in the SI joint.
    ~ it no longer matters what level I do, as long as I am doing it..~ with many thanks, to Elizabeth Callahan


    • #3
      My focus is building the topline as well. I have added the SMARTMUSCLE MASS supp to his diet and combined with lots of change of direction and transitions while asking him to give his back and be through has changed him for the better. I also have him massaged monthly by a strong male therapist that is able to give me good feedback on our progress.

      Try adding bellylifts before and after you ride and I also have him leg yield around me both directions before I mount after I've stretched his front legs.

      My favorite excecise is a 20 meter circle with E at 9 oclcok, C at 12, B at 3 and A at 6 (to help you envision this). I ride the 20 and then chnage direction at either 12 of 6 o'clock with a 15-10 meter circle with the lesser gait. ex: canter 20 meter circle and chnage at 12 to a 15meter circle at trot and then back to the 20 meter circle at 12 asking for the canter again. This works well with trot to walk as well. I have also used this excercise as 2 15 meter circles with a trot step or two and then canter on the new lead for change of direction. I end this excercise with a good stretchy trot at the end or in between if he is starting to feel tight.

      This is my favorite warmup now.


      • #4
        Just correct basic dressage, aiming to get the horse really working through it's back. Long and low with a connection, transitions, and basic lateral work, turn on the forehand and leg yielding, making sure the horse is using it's back correctly during the lateral work.

        Trot and canter poles and hill work, both up and down, on the aids are great strengtheners for the SI area. But be careful of doing to much too soon, build gradually. Build up (over the course of 6 months) to doing hill repeats, where you walk up and down the steepest hill you can find, on the aids and straight so they have to use their SI properly, 10 times. I have horses with SI and stifle issues do that twice a week. If you only have little hills, then I'd increase the reps to 20, and if you have no hills then you might try raised cavelitti.

        Good luck!


        • #5
          One thing that is a must with horses who have SI issues and weak topline is correct saddle fit as well as making sure their dental health is current. Often OTTB are locked through their backs. They've learned to brace on the bit for support. This means you have to change their entire way of going. LStevenson gave you good advice and I loved that she warned you not to be too ambitious too soon. That is one of the major mistakes we make when rehabbing a horse. Make sure circles aren't too small. Nothing smaller than 20M until your horse has strengthened their hindend. Regular massages will help the SI area strengthen and loosen that scar tissue. Scar tissue isn't elastic and it will be normal for this region of your horse to be tight. Make sure you take ample time to warm up. Lots of nice, forward, marching walk on a fairly long rein. Transitions are wonderful. Truly, as already said, basic dressage is your answer.
          Susan B.


          • #6
            Correct, methodical, and not over complicated work will go a long way.

            I second those who say medical/comfort issues - saddle fit, dental, mental comfort/relaxation. I would also add the usefullness of good chiro exam can not be overlooked in her case - she is compensating for areas that hurt, possibly creating new problems by over-using healthy (for now) areas.

            Useful work can be done in walk, trot, or canter - provided the rider can feel, guide, and influence the movements at the right time. A lot can be achieved in walk - relaxed, forward, with back up, proper bend - sound easy, HARD to accomplish.

            I find the trot easier - if the horse is good outdoors and you have appropriate footing - go on a long, low ride while asking the horse to PUSH every relaxed big swinging stride, keep it up until the horse starts getting tired. As in the point not at which the horse can no longer trot, but is stopping the quality of the trot you want. If there is no outdoor trail available, do it in the indoor - pick out a symmetrical, consistent shape - like a circle, 20m or more will be good in the beginning, and ask for a quality of trot you want. Does not matter if you sit or post as long as you are effective.

            Trotting badly, with back down gets you nowhere in building the good back. How do you know if your horse's back is up? Have you felt them "lift" their back to defecate or get ready to buck? Well, that is the feeling you want EVERY step. So, if you normally CAN feel your horse lifting it's back up to poop, once the back is "up" - it will feel like your horse is going to poop every step, or alternatively, you will no longer feel the difference in the back when it actually does poop.

            Until the basic trot is established and correct, all the figures and transitions just make it more difficult to get your original point across to the horse and for them to find their balance.
            Those are more like little steps up, little challenges to check if the horse can maintain balance, connection, etc in the changing circumstances. If it can not do it at a simple consistent gait, you are not ready for a test.

            It does take a good rider with feeling to get the horse to lift the back and carry - not an easy task.
            Horses should be trained in such a way that they not only love their riders, but look forward to the time they are with them.
            ~ Xenophon, 350 B.C.


            • #7
              We use hill work to aid in building up horses toplines faster and developing core muscles better. It has been a tremendous help to all the horses we have in training.


              • #8
                Having a horse with an injurry in his croup, this is what the lameness vet gave me to bring the horse back into work and strengthen him.

                Spirals: 20m-10m out then in. When you start them, do it at walk and only spiral in as much as the horse will easily go, don't push it. Do just a little and build up. It takes time to build muscle (3 months according to experts) so keep that in mind. Once the horse is comfortable at the walk, start adding it at trot.

                When the horse is stronger, then one can add shoulder-fore, then shoulder-in, trot polls and later hill work (best done at walk as it encourages the horse to step under more).


                • #9
                  Personally I would favour long slow hill work, both up and down slopes. A few days a week of the kind of basic dressage work others have described, combined with patient hill work generally works wonders.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by BayHorseUK View Post
                    Personally I would favour long slow hill work, both up and down slopes. A few days a week of the kind of basic dressage work others have described, combined with patient hill work generally works wonders.
                    I would do this, and do the long slow hill work at mostly a walk. If you don't have hills, you can use ground poles or other similar obstacles done at the walk. If the horse naturally inverts, you have to be sure to keep her nice and round or all your work will be for nothing.


                    • #11
                      if you know how, double lunging can really help a horse learn to use its back properly and help it build muscle without the weight of the rider.

                      once they build a base line level then lots of work with a lowered neck (i prefer with the neck at about wither level) - but each horse is a bit different and you can *feel* when they engage those muscles .... stay off the back for as long as possible and use a light seat so the horse will continue to use the back correctly and only sit to the degree the horse can maintain the correct back usage.

                      give lots of breaks and you should see results in a few weeks.


                      • Original Poster

                        Thanks for the help everyone!

                        We unfortunately don't have any hills, but I can certainly set up some ground poles.

                        Would anyone else recommend a muscle building supplement? I've never used one before. I'm a bit tight for funds after the major trip to the vet last week, so I'd rather not buy anything extra unless we really think it would help in which case I would.
                        Cascadia- OTTB mare. 04/04-05/10
                        If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever


                        • #13
                          Snow shovelling! I'm sore as &$^!
                          "You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed." - The Little Prince


                          • #14
                            Ditto what has been said already. Double lunging or long lining (if you know how), ground rails and raised cavaletti, hills (where possible), leg yields, spirals, transitions, etc. And definitely make sure there's nothing else going on, as far as saddle fit, dental issues, etc, that could sabotage the good work that you're trying to do. Good luck!
                            Different Times Equestrian Ventures at Hidden Spring Ranch


                            • #15
                              Here is a list of things that will help. Yay lists!

                              1. Take lessons with a renowned dressage coach in your area If they are good, they will know how to strengthen a topline effectively and coach you through all the steps to ensure that you are doing it properly.
                              2. Lots of long and low work. Really push the horse forward and down. Think about keeping the length of his neck as long as possible.
                              3. Transitions. Post into your walk transitions from trot to not put much pressure on the horse's back...
                              4. Keep a long frame and always keep the horse in front of your leg. You will know you are going too fast when your horse breaks into a canter
                              5. Work on spiral circles to really get the horse to use it's back. Spiral into 10m and out to 20m at w/t/c. You can do this in long and low or in a long frame.
                              6. Transitions within the gait. Lengthen on the long sides, shorten on the short sides or lengthen/shorten on a circle.
                              7. There is a reflex just above the point of buttocks, scratch it and have it hold for 4 seconds. Repeat five times upon introduction, gradually raise reps to 15
                              8. Raised trotting poles or a series of trotting poles. Long and low, normal frame or a long frame; whatever is the most comfortable

                              And this is all I can think of :O. Perhaps some other useful techniques will come to me. Hope this helps
                              Last edited by Maya01; Dec. 20, 2009, 08:17 PM. Reason: Add to the list


                              • Original Poster

                                Thanks again for all the ideas- I'm so grateful!

                                I'm currently without a trainer (I'm a college student who just got a massive vet bill!) but I'm moving to a new barn next month that has a trainer. She's mostly h/j but I'm think I can get a few flat lessons from her, to at least have another pair of eyes looking at things.

                                My mare had a VERY comprehensive trip to the vet last week, tons of x-rays, ultrasounds, bone scan, etc. I think (hope!) we have all the issues figured out and she got her teeth done two weeks ago. Her saddles were both fit by a saddler over the summer, her shape hasn't changed much (thought she's lost some muscle since then) so I think they should still be fine.

                                I've done a little bit of longlining, but I'm not sure I'm comfortable enough to do it without supervision a few more times. Would lunging in side reins help at all? I have a pair of the elastic kind as well as the vienna side reins. What's double lunging?
                                Cascadia- OTTB mare. 04/04-05/10
                                If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever


                                • #17
                                  your girl is GORGEOUS! wow!

                                  double lunging is basically long lining on a circle.

                                  also something to think about is LYs... slow, deliberate at the walk, ask her to cross over as much as she is easily able and slowly build to crossing over time. this helps release the hips/back etc , but can be very difficult for some horses.

                                  as for side reins.... honestly i find lunging without them better..... especially for horses with weak backs.... for a weak back you want her to go slowly and drape over the back... even if she "sniffs" the ground that is fine.... it helps relax and release.

                                  i would not waste my $$ on muscle building supplements.


                                  • #18
                                    Agree with MBM. As long as the horse is on quality feed (which is simply good quality grains etc), supplements are over kill and are more likely to cause fat build up.

                                    I would really really avoid sidereins esp vienna types as they force a position which can easily lead to injurry. If you lunge, change direction often and do lots of transitions (but stop as signs of fatigue as pushing tired muscles lead to injurries).

                                    Remember, it takes 3 months to build new muscle.

                                    Good luck.


                                    • #19
                                      You don't need a custom one

                                      Originally posted by Lone View Post
                                      Thanks for the help everyone!

                                      We unfortunately don't have any hills, but I can certainly set up some ground poles.

                                      Would anyone else recommend a muscle building supplement? I've never used one before. I'm a bit tight for funds after the major trip to the vet last week, so I'd rather not buy anything extra unless we really think it would help in which case I would.
                                      Just go to the health food store or GNC and get some whey powder. GIve the horse 20-30grams (a tablespoonful) a day, while you are rehabbing.
                                      Once she is stronger and can do more work, increase it up to 100g a day.
                                      Of course if you would rather a custom one PM me I make one called Muscle Mix™ . It's more effective than whey powder and costs a bit more, but not much.

                                      Watch her behavior while you are doing that as the high protein supplements can make then very high or energetic. if you get too much over exuberant behavior and you will need to drop the muscle supplement.
                                      Good Luck.
                                      Melyni (PhD) PAS, Dipl. ACAN.
                                      Sign up for the Equine nutrition enewsletter on www.foxdenequine.com
                                      New edition of book is out:
                                      Horse Nutrition Handbook.



                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by Timex View Post
                                        Ditto what has been said already. Double lunging or long lining (if you know how), ground rails and raised cavaletti, hills (where possible), leg yields, spirals, transitions, etc. And definitely make sure there's nothing else going on, as far as saddle fit, dental issues, etc, that could sabotage the good work that you're trying to do. Good luck!
                                        Well, that just about covers everything i was going to suggest
                                        chaque pas est fait ensemble