Tag Archives: suppleness

Stiff, unsettled neck/head/contact – helpful suppling exercises to try with your horse

Neck suppling ideasBy Wiola Grabowska

This subject is coming your way thanks to a little Twitter conversation I had last night on #EquineHour with Tail End Jewellery.

I like to think about the horse’s neck and head as if they were a barometer of what happens in the rest of the horse’s body. For this reason I generally prefer not to use any training devices that place the head and neck in a “desired” position.

Sometimes we will deal with the actual physical issues within the neck, head or poll but many a time these issues resolve or greatly improve once the body balance had been addressed.

It is common to try to immobilise the unsteady neck and head via stronger rein connection, variety of bits or perhaps with gadgets like draw reins. This might give the rider an illusion of stability or control but it is not a long term, wellness focused solution.

Body issues that can manifest themselves in neck stiffness or excessive movement of the the neck and head include misalignment (natural crookedness or rider caused crookedness), subtle and low grade lameness, back pain, hollow backed way of going as well as simple loses of balance in a young/green horse.

Before assuming the neck issue is The Issue, I personally prefer to address all the above possibilities. If I work with a rider who is also learning own balance and stability while remaining supple, the neck stiffness or contact issues are secondary to the rest of the body.

However, here is a suppling exercise to try on the ground – best with your instructor or a physiotherapist watching if you have any doubts as to whether you are doing it correctly. It might give you as a rider a better insight into the degree of tension your horse is really holding in the neck: 

Kelly and Mojo – poll flexions. Something has grabbed Mojo’s attention so he is more focused on that rather than on what is being asked but overall, the exercise has a nice, neck relaxing effect on him. Photo by: www.cdphotos.co.uk  

Poll flexion in-hand. Place one hand on the horse’s neck just behind the ears and the other on the nose just above the noseband. Both hands should be relaxed and never exerting any force on the horse. The “nose hand” acts in a slow, soft on-off manner to bring the nose towards you a little. Visualise all the structures around the atlas/axis joint loosening up as you softly bring the nose to the side. With your “neck hand” you can stroke the muscles you want relaxed adjusting the degree of pressure to what your horse perceives most relaxing. In the photo above, Mojo spotted something in the distance half-way through the release so although he is flexed at the poll he is also fixed in that position. The feel you are going for is one of release of all tension so pay close attention to yourself too…Any impatience or tension in you will affect the horse’s reactions. Horse’s eyes might close a little and ears go sideways a fraction too. Many horses find this exercise really relaxing once they realise there is no force in it. Done regularly and gently, it can help with habitual tension carried in the neck and poll due to issues further down the body.  Repeat a few times on each side but bare in mind some horses can be protective about any parts of their body that feel a bit “off” so they can try to pull the head away or shake you off. Don’t force the issue, just repeat calmly a little bit each day.

Caitlin and Mollie (around Christmas 2016 time hence Santa hat! 😉 ) 
Sofija and Jack – flexion right in-hand

The flexions in-hand can be developed into ones in-motion to help with alignment and relaxation on a circle as on photos below. If this is something you would like me to blog more about please let me know in the comments and I will add more on this next time.


Please consult your physiotherapist or a vet if in any doubt whether these exercises are suitable for your horse. 




Rider Fitness – Aspire Academy In-House Challenge: Yoga

By Wiola Grabowska

In January this year I allocated one day every 30-40 days for a feedback & theory learning/catch up/fun day for the Academy riders and on each of these days we decided to set some challenges among those who attend.


Last month, our in-house rider challenge was Flexibility & Suppleness and yoga seemed like a good choice (at the time!!!). The main aim of this challenge is not so much to go from no supplementary riding regime to a full on one but to test different systems, to figure out what might work for what kind of rider, their personality and lifestyle. Another reason for it is to direct some focus into how athletic ability develops which hopefully links with more understanding of how horses might experience “training”.

Despite many differences, horses and people have many athletic similarities, their muscles tire, their lactic acid build up, their hearts need conditioning to effort, ligaments and tendons can over strain, mentally they might cope better or worse with work load etc

Doing any form of exercise with some basic attention to ones health is not a bad insight into training principles.

I have personally tried a course of yoga several years ago and found it immensely challenging. Flexibility is not my forte and stretching is the necessary evil! I should probably do it every day but in the same way as some people just can’t let go of fast foods, my muscles just like their tight state!

Not surprisingly, the beginning was tough for us. We shared some photos of our faces after doing first set of yoga on the first day of the challenge and lets just say, these photos will never see outside our closed conversation 😉

My biggest issue was space as I live in a tiny cottage so had to more furniture around each evening whilst some other riders had to fight off dogs that thought the best time of the evening started when the mat hit the floor 🙂

Darcy helping Lou with her Yoga challenge

We went for an easy option of finding video workouts on You Tube and went with Power Yoga For Dressage Riders channel for many of the sessions.

Exercises are well explained and videos watch easily, the weather on the screen made me drool a bit though 😉 I started with the the beginner workout video, here’s a link if you’d like to try it: Yoga For Dressage Riders – Flexibility And Flow

March is our Core & Cardio challenge so stay tuned for update in April but in the meantime, if you know of any good online programmes for us to try, give us a shout in the comments 😀 Self promotion welcome!