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Locomotion Muscles Need The Least Conditioning

Heading into winter – this fact is great news for those of us stuck in colder climates!

So many exercise regimes focus on long trotting for fitness but in truth, trotting helps improve cardio conditioning more than anything, and the horse’s respiratory fitness is the fastest to make improvements with!

If you follow us on social media, a few posts ago we shared some research that showed cold air intake during exercise has been shown to contribute to COPD as well as EIPH in horses.

ICYMI, here are the deets: At rest, the air a horse breathes in is warmed by the upper airway before it reaches the lungs. But the ability for the horse’s body to warm the air appropriately is reduced when they are asked to perform even moderate cardiovascular conditioning in cold climates.

Studies have shown that horses experience “peripheral airway mucosal injury” due to the intake of un-warmed air during exercise, and experts say breathing cold air can actually contribute to the development of asthma, as well as increase the severity of EIPH.

How cold is too cold? Research has been conducted in various temperatures with damage being recognized as warm as 40°F! In many norther states as well as Canada, we go months without seeing a 40° day :(

So, if the temperatures are frigid and we should be considerate with how much exertion we ask our equine partners to do, what can we do with our horses all winter?

Work with their rarely recruited postural muscles!

DYK: Horses have two main muscle systems that are imperative to their movement: the locomotion muscles, and the postural muscles.

The big, strong, developed muscles you see and feel on the horse are the locomotion muscles – aptly named for their responsibility for moving our horses forward across the ground.

The postural muscles however, control the stability of their joints and spine during that movement.

When we neglect to improve our horse’s postural muscles, the locomotion muscles kick in and try to do the work of both systems. This means in addition to creating movement, they also try to keep the skeleton aligned and stable, hence the word “try” – because they are truly ill-fitted for this role.

Some beautiful changes we achieved through thoracic sling exercises allowed Trace's locomotion muscles to smooth over and work more effectively too!

The consequence to locomotion muscles pulling double duty, is they can become inflamed; resulting in excess tension, clumsiness (think: stumbling), and joint misalignment – which leads to the joint also not being adequately primed for movement (which is super bad in winter when joint fluid is slower to get moving in the first place)

With all that being said, winter is a great time to improve our horse’s core stability and postural muscles because you don’t need a lot of space, or to be riding, to start strengthening this important system. It can also be seen as “not as much fun” type of conditioning since the work is best done at low speeds like walking or even standing still – and when it’s a beautiful sunny summer day, we would rather be in the saddle!

If this post has you intrigued to try postural strength training but you need some ideas of what to do – we’ve got you covered in our “Off Season Exercises for Equines” guide! This guide comes fully equipped with hot topics, outside the box exercises, photos, links to products, and video tutorials. Grab your copy here and happy horsing around this winter!



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