Improving Mobility, Control, Load in Horses

by | May 2, 2022 | equestrian, fitness

In my last two blog posts HERE and HERE, I’ve been talking about mobility, control, and load with riders. These are important elements to have in equestrian fitness programs to get your body ready to perform at its best.

These same principles apply to horses. We need to add mobility, control and load to their training program also, for the same reasons as riders.

Mobility work gives the horse adequate range of motion to do their performance job.

Control work focuses on neuromuscular control, motor coordination, and teaching muscles to properly stabilize the body to perform effectively.

Load work increases strength and endurance.

It’s important you build these components into your training program in an organized manner. You work on them in a linear and cyclical order. That may sound contradictory but here is what I mean:

Here is the linear model: Mobility work is first, to make sure your horse has adequate range of motion. Then within that range work on control to teach stability muscles to fire, and prime the neurological system to use the correct muscles. Finally add load to get your horse stronger and fitter.

But it’s also a cycle. You need to regularly reassess each area and circle back to improving mobility and control, not just always work on strength. The cycle also is coordinated with your training schedule, such as getting ready for an important competition or coming back to work from winter break.

Now let’s talk about the type of work each area requires, and the team member who is involved.

GoalInterventionTeam MemberGoal
MobilityManual Therapy/Bodywork



Mobilization Drills

Hoof angles/farrier

Medical interventions/vet care

Dental care

Equipment fitting


Physical therapist



Equine Dentist

Saddle fitter
Improve or maintain joint motion and muscle length so horse has the necessary range of motion to move properly and without pain.
ControlMobilization Drills


Cavaletti work

Proprioception exercises

Specific groundwork and lunge exercises to promote core and topline activation

Footwork exercises over low jumps, grids
Training aids (equicore, side reins, Pessoa, etc.)


Physical therapist
Improve core strength and motor coordination so the horse engages the correct muscles at the correct time to move properly.
LoadCardiovascular strengthening (interval trot and canter sets, gallops, water treadmill, swimming)

Hill training

Sport specific strengthening work

Increase sport specific strength and endurance.

You’ll notice mobility has the largest number of team members. Many people can contribute to improving the horse’s range of motion and comfort. To achieve the control and load goals, the interventions shift to specific exercise prescriptions. Physical therapists are highly involved in creating therapeutic exercise programs, along with the rider, trainer and coach.

One of the key things to understand is that improving mobility isn’t the end goal. The ultimate goal is to improve mobility so the horse can have full range of motion without pain, then teach the horse how to control this motion and get stronger within that full range of motion. If you just improve motion without also working on control and load, you’ll find the mobility issues keep returning. In this situation, you often see the same issue returning, such as stiffness in the hocks or trigger points in pectoral muscles leading to girthing issues. The long term solution is often found in the therapeutic exercise prescription. I’ll talk about that more in the next blog post.

Need help? You can reach Shelley at with questions. Thank you!

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Hi, I’m Shelley!

My exercise philosophy is simple – consistency beats perfection, strength should radiate from our core outward, and short, high intensity workouts are awesome. I’ve been a physical therapist for almost 20 years and see so many people struggle with consistency, accountability, and injury. Intrepid Wellness was born out of a desire to help people gain confidence, embrace the importance of fitness, and go after their goals.