To that end, I bought a book called Equine Fitness by Jec Aristotle Ballou, which is filled with all sorts of exercises & stretches to increase your horse's fitness, strength, and flexibility. I feel that many of the maneuvers in her book are a bit advanced for my & Rhio's level of dressage skill (a hair above nothing) but I aspire to be able to execute them. I also recently read a short article on the Easy Care website (http://easycarenews.com/05-28-2010/articles/posture-and-performance-by-duncan-mclaughlin/) by Duncan McLaughlin entitled "Posture and Performance." This article presents several simple in-hand exercises to strengthen your horse's core muscles and thereby strengthen his back & his ability to carry his rider, which is so important to our endurance horses which carry us for long distances.
Rhio is still "resting" (read: running, bucking, & playing in his pasture with his tail flying) from his 50 mile ride last Saturday, but I wanted to do something with him today that was useful, fun, and not mounted. Kristi and I devised a short program with exercises from both sources, and got to "play" with our boys while hopefully deriving some physical & mental benefit as well.
We began with a hand walk on the road to a slight hill (about 5 minutes); at the hill, we asked our horses to lower their heads (engage their hindquarters & backs) and back about 4 steps, staying straight. This is a deceptively difficult exercise and Cody struggled with the concept, but both horses accomplished several repetitions of this backing-up-a-hill exercise. We then came into the outdoor arena and set up 2 obstacles: a "fan" and a series of cavaletti/ground poles.
Killian showing off the "fan"
Kristi & Cody walking the ground poles & cavaletti with several set up to higher levels - the horses had to look & step over according to height. These cavaletti are quite close together to promote lifting those legs nice & high, engaging the core muscles to do so.
Kristi & Cody executing a spiral around the "fan" - we all knocked a lot of poles down doing this one!
Our final & most difficult exercise - these cavaletti are all set at the highest point yet still very close together, requiring the horses to step high to get over them - this exercise is called the "climb through."
Yes, I have short legs! It's not the easiest exercise for us humans either!
It seemed like a worthwhile way to spend some quality time with our horses, as well as challenge them both physically and mentally. Also, the weather was threatening rain, so we were nice & close to home in case of sudden downpours!