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Reasons why your horse should do pilates 

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Photos: Tifoto

Horses can easily do pilates. Naturally, it does not take place on a mat, as is often the case for humans. The purpose of pilates, however, is the same whether the practitioner has two or four legs; to optimize strength, balance, coordination, and body awareness. Here you´ll find five excellent pilates exercises by Gillian Higgins that you can do with your horse.

Read also: ProPrio Training: Easier said than done – How to get started


About Gillian Higgins

Gillian Higgins is the author of Pilates and Stretching. The exercises shown in this article are from the book. She specializes in assessing posture and movement, devising exercises for improving performance and educating horse owners.

When we get up on our horses, we involuntarily wear out their locomotor system. To ensure that our horses can actually endure what we ask of them, it's important that we optimize their physical shape. We can do this, among other things, through targeted exercises.

In pilates, you work with exercises that increase core stability and create strength, flexibility, and body awareness. Maintaining the horse's ability to perform and use their body without getting injured is important.

In other words, co-stability, balance, and strength are just as important for the horse as it is for the rider. In addition to a healthy posture, it can contribute to a more effective workout, improve performance, and can reduce the risk of injuries. Also, it's a nice and fun addition to riding, which can even help to strengthen the partnership between you and your horse.

Help the body to find its balance

Pilates exercises for horses work, among other things, to improve the horse's posture and movement. In addition, it can help the body to find a fine balance between resilience and flexibility. Here the horse's body has the opportunity to perform optimally and even with significantly less risk of injury, overload, or tension.

Stimulation and strengthening of the core muscles can be done, among other things, through proper work with the horse in riding. But there are also several exercises from the ground, which work very well with the core muscles without the load from the rider, for example, pilates.


Pilates strengthens the horse´s body and makes the muscles more flexible, which helps the general body posture. Things that we as riders are very interested in. Pilates can also be an important part of a rehabilitation program, where you can strengthen specific muscles or areas of the horse.

Make sure to perform the exercises at a leisurely pace and with a low head posture – this will optimize the result.

The theory behind pilates

Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates, an expert in movement and biomechanics. He made a system of exercises and stretching techniques, where everything was based on the theory that a strong core system supports the back and minimizes the risk of muscle damage.

The Sternum lift

This exercise is good for increasing flexibility in the back. It also stimulates the thoracic sling and abdominal muscles, both are important in maintaining an appropriate posture.

How to do it

  • Stand next to the horse where the girth would normally be and look at the horse.
  • Place your hand on the horse's sternum and pat it lightly until it's comfortable.
  • Press upwards with your fingertips and hold the pressure so that the horse raises its back around the withers.
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The exercise stimulates the muscles around the thoracic sling and abdominal cavity. These muscles help optimize the position of the back and they are important in terms of carrying the rider's weight.

Backing up

This exercise is good for lifting and bending the back. It strengthens the muscles and structures that help activate the hind legs and that help carry the rider's weight. You can also call the exercise reverse collection.

How to do it

  • Walk the horse forward and stop.
  • Make the horse go backward by putting light pressure on its chest.
  • Keep the horse's head as low as you can. It encourages the horse to lift its back. If it's difficult, you can use a carrot to keep the head low.
  • Let the horse take a minimum of 10 steps back in a good rhythm.
  • Be aware that the horse doesn't rush into the exercise and speeds up.


To lift and bend the back and strengthen the muscles that help carry the rider.

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Backing up the horse. // Tifoto

Carrot low to the side

This exercise is good for increasing the flexibility of the back and the lower part of the neck. It contributes to a healthy back posture, and it increases the body's ability to bend sideways. In short, it's a thorough and effective stretching exercise.

How to do it

  • Stand with your back against the horse's ribs just around the girth
  • Hold the carrot in the hand closest to the tail.
  • Keep the carrot close to the horse's lips to ensure a steady movement.
  • Move the carrot down below your knee, the one closest to the tail.
  • Hold the stretch for 5-10 seconds before letting the horse get the carrot.
  • Repeat the exercise 2-3 times on each side of the horse.
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To increase core stability, strength in abdominal muscles, mobility in the back and general agility.


Stretching exercises must be done when the horse is warmed up, for example after riding.

Step over raised poles

This exercise is good for increasing flexibility through the shoulder, elbow, hip joints, knees and hocks. It happens when the joints are bent and stretched, and the blood circulation increases in the surrounding soft tissue.

How to do it

  • Lead the horse over one or more poles on the ground at a slow pace.
  • Gradually increase the height of the poles until they are at the same level as the horse's knees.
  • Encourage the horse to lower its head so that its back is raised.


Strengthen the muscles and structures that assist in carrying the rider, such as hip flexion and stability around the pelvis. The exercise is also good for flexing the structures around the shoulder, hip, knee, and hock.

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Pole work can be part of pilates.

Walk diagonally over poles

This exercise is good for increasing agility and movement in the joints and muscles used for lateral movement.

How to do it

  • Place 3-5 poles after one another as shown in the photo.
  • Walk diagonally over the poles in a zig zag pattern.
  • Make sure that the horse starts walking over the poles with the foreleg that is closest to a pole.
  • Ensure that the horse keeps his head low.
  • Gradually increase the height of the poles until they are at the same level as the horse's knees.


In this exercise, the horse must lift and bend the back, hip joints, shoulder and elbow as well as the hocks and knees. Among other things, you also work on strengthening the muscles and structures that are involved in activating the hind knee, hip flexion and stabilization of the pelvis. The exercise also helps to strengthen the structures that the horse uses when making lateral work.

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9 reasons to practice pilates

  1. It strengthens and stretches the small and large muscles in the body.
  2. It protects against the overload of the muscles.
  3. It provides a healthy and good posture.
  4. It strengthens the body's joints.
  5. It provides a better balance between body and mind.
  6. It stimulates blood circulation.
  7. It is extremely suitable for rehabilitation after injuries or surgery.
  8. It is very gentle, and everyone can do it.
  9. It increases body awareness.

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