Book Review: Core Conditioning for Horses

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Yoga-inspired Warm-up Techniques Increase Suppleness, Improve Bend, and Unlock Optimal Movement

By Visconte Simon Cocozza

Published by Trafalgar Square Books/, 296 pages. Hardcover, Kindle

Reviewed by Margaret Evans

Think yoga, and people will think of an ancient mind-body practice of breathing, meditation, and relaxation of Indian origin. Now, a fascinating book has applied specific yoga-inspired exercises to transform any horse or pony’s body into the peak of suppleness and athletic ability.

Core Conditioning for Horses by Visconte Simon Cocozza is an absolute delight to read and learn from. It is generouslyillustrated with charts, diagrams, and colour photographs. Many of the photos are enhanced with overlays of three-dimensional arrows and indicators that further illustrate the specific point being made. And the text is broken up with philosophical statements from great minds such as Leonardo da Vinci and, more whimsically, Star Wars’ Yoda.

“Leonardo da Vinci was fascinated by the mechanical complexity inside the horse’s body,” writes Cocozza. “He was looking for the ‘magic’ behind the muscle.”

The book is all about finding and nurturing that magic. 

“Most serious riders have felt that magic that lives inside a horse. In that breathtaking moment when a horse is physically and mentally ‘free’ under the saddle, you get to become part of a true wonder of the world; the equine’s athletic magic in motion.”

Cocozza lives in Normandy, is a state-certified examiner for la Fédération Française d’Equitation (FFE), and specializes in applied equine biomechanics. He has taken the principles of yoga and used them to develop novel ways to reach inside the horse with core fitness exercises. The book starts with focusing on the back, where all movement begins.

“When the horse lacks strength in his core muscles, his back can no longer be ‘round,’ no matter how the horse’s head is positioned, and he becomes literally ‘hollow’ under the saddle.”

He writes that the equine spine is particularly responsive to yoga’s principles because it uses a full range of lateral, vertical, and rotational movements to deliberately reach every little joint and muscle along its length, activating all the components of this complicated three-dimensional bio-puzzle. He provides five core indicators to evaluate your level of riding experience with your horse. They include rideability (how easy is he to ride?); suppleness (how flexible is he?); soundness (how stable, agile, and regular is he?); head, neck, and mouth (how supple, soft, and light is he?); and the ridden mindset (is he alert, lazy, or crazy?).

Ten detailed and illustrated exercises provide guidance starting with the four core warm-up plans covering connection, flexibility, wellness, and agility. Exercise #1 is the half-moon pose, or core release volte.

“This is the simplest, gentlest, and most useful back stretch of all,” he writes. “This exercise is both easy to do and master and it almost immediately gives the core its freedom.”

The half-moon pose is the human equivalent of the horse’s core release volte. It shows the horse how easy it is for him to bend through the body a little more each day. Basically, it’s a bend on a six-metre volte circle that creates the idea spinal angle to release the horse’s core and round the back. Two circles side-by-side create a figure-8 design for the horse to bend in both directions and gently release many back stiffnesses.

The exercises build to include the turn on the forehand (yoga half-split); forward, down, and out (yoga cat pose), which replicates the grazing position; forward and back (yoga balancing table pose); and so on. Each one is fully explained, shows how it helps the horse, shows the human yoga equivalent, and includes commentary from other experts with their own equine core evaluation stories and inputs.

This informative book is helpful, not only from a practical point of view but from a philosophical one, to guide horse owners in the best course of action as it relates to their horses’ individual needs.

For riders focused on a quality core conditioning program, Core Conditioning for Horses is an ideal addition to their library. 

Book Review: Core Conditioning for Horses