Looking at loosening up muscles, joints and your horses mind.
When you have mounted your horse allow him to walk off on a soft low rein with a loose contact and encourage him to stretch forward and long in his neck. This stretches the ‘nuchal ligament’ which runs from his pole to his withers and in turn pulls on the ligaments which run along the top of the vertebrae and gives him time to get used to your weight. When you feel he has developed a loose and flexible walk and is listening to you then move into trot keeping the contact soft and low and start in rising trot on large figures of eight in a slow steady trot. This will help him relax and adjust his stance to easily take your weight. Also by riding your horse in this way also it allows for more swing through his back, which is a positive movement to promote.
It’s important to start and finish your ridden session with your horse in a long and low contact to let him use his nuchal and supraspinous ligaments to support his back, particularly as he’s warming up or when he’s tired.
Once your horse is loosened up and moving freely in the large movements you can start to increase his temperature and circulation by asking him to move into canter this will increase his cardio and breathing rates and oxygenate the muscles ready to start working. It also exercises the core muscles which have to extend and contract more in the canter than they do in the trot.
Once you feel he is breathing well and has warmed up then allow him to have a breather and walk for a while. During this walking period you can concentrate on flexibility. Just like people horses will loose flexibility over time unless they are given routine exercises which help them use their joints to the full.
Lateral work for a horse encourages a full range of movement in upper joints, rather like us lifting our arms above our heads to stretch. Depending on what level your horse is training at you can use small circles of lateral work such as leg-yield, shoulder-in and travers. Start any lateral exercises in walk at first as it requires the greatest amount of joint movement because there’s no moment of suspension.
Walking is the horses most flexible pace for his spine. In walk he is able to more easily rotate and flex and this helps bring his hind legs in to step up and under him. All of these exercises will help to promote and maintain your horse’s skeletal health. Flexing him to the left and right will help the muscles on either side of his spine and poll to flex, and any lateral and circle work will strengthen and stretch these muscle chains further.