Developing For Rider Support

November 21, 2018



  • Identify the saddle support area

  • How the horse must move to build rider support 

  • Understanding the thoracic vertebrae 

  • Identifying lift in the horse's back






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Rider Support
The horse must round or lift his back in order to relieve the stresses and pressures placed on him simply from gravity and his own body structure. And the domestic horse needs help doing this.

Because the back suspends between the horse’s two halves, exercises that lift and strengthen the back help build the strength through his top line muscles which he needs to support his rider safely. This prevents sway-backed horses regardless of age. It also helps minimize the concussive force caused by the horse when in motion. Much like a ballet dancer who lands softly vs one who lands heavily. Which one do you think will have a longer and healthier career? You guessed right! The one who takes care in learning how to land softly to minimize concussion to the joints. In order to accomplish this, the horse needs to strengthen the core muscles to protect the back and other joints throughout the body. Once these muscles are strengthened they remain "engaged" much like the gym junky who displays his/her six pack all the time. Those muscles are strong and ready to work at any given moment. This is what we do for our horses when we train for core strength and it gives the horse strength over the rider support area of the back. As the horse gradually becomes stronger he will be able to do more complex exercises but in the beginning, he needs the opportunity to develop without a rider on his back. The horse should be developed from the ground for a minimum of one year without a rider on his back. Very young horses of 5 or less should be given more time to develop. This is a great time to establish leadership with your horse and teach him to use his body properly before mounting.  


Bones of the back
The back is specifically the thoracic vertebrae extending from T1 at the base of the neck to T18 just in front of the lumbosacral junction (the loin). Each of these thoracic vertebrae has a rib that extends down housing the horse’s diaphragm, lungs, liver, stomach, heart, and some intestines. The thoracic vertebrae are composed of a round mass of bone that arches on one side forming a ring that houses the spinal cord. The projection on the top of the thoracic vertebrae is called the spinous process. 

Practice with your horse

To practice identifying the lift in the horse’s back you can do static tummy lifts by carefully rubbing the horse with the tips of your fingers under his belly. Most horses will enjoy lifting the back because it momentarily relieves the pressure of gravity. However, static tummy lifts have little to no long-term benefit for the horse, which is why it’s important to train him to lift his back while in motion starting at a walk and working up slowly to a canter. Once horses learn to lift their backs it feels so good to them they will often do it on their own to find relief.  

Concluding Points
1. Horse's need specific exercises to strengthen the rider support area of the back to avoid long-term damage caused by natural concussive force.

2. This part of the horse's back is made up of 18 thoracic vertebrae which house the spinal cord.

3. You can practice training your eye by carefully rubbing your horse's belly to ask him to lift his back. 



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