Stretching your horse is an easy way to keep your horse supple and helps to maintain good muscle health.
Stretches should only be carried out once the muscles have been warmed up. After exercise is the best time to stretch your horse, alternatively using the Equilibrium Therapy Massage Pad and the Massage Mitt on key areas, such as the neck, shoulders and quarters can help to warm the muscles up. Stretching a cold muscle increases the risk of damage to the muscle fibres as they are less elastic and can tear more easily.
As well as increasing your horses’ flexibility and therefore performance, stretching can also;
- Help maintain elastic properties of muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia
- Promotes improved joint ROM (Range Of Motion)
- Identifies problem areas more quickly – for example, a sudden reluctance to perform a certain stretch which previously hasn’t been an issue
- Identifies your horses more supple side, and therefore you can focus on evening them up
- Wake up sensory nerves in muscles and tendons that play a huge part in proprioception (the body’s awareness of movement and position of body parts in relation to others)
- Help prevent DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness)
- Help improve general posture
- Help reduce the risk of injury
Listed below are 10 simple stretches that you can do with your horse on a regular basis to help keep them supple though their top line, encourage a good stride length and improve neck flexion.
- Fore limb Protraction
Pick up the horses’ foot as normal and then gradually draw the limb forward supporting the fetlock joint and flexor tendons. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times on each leg. If your horse is snatching the leg back, reduce the amount of stretch and build up gradually each day. This will stretch the triceps, lattisimus dorsi and other muscles involved with forelimb movement.
- Hind limb Protraction
Draw the horses’ hind limb forwards toward the forelimb fetlock; make sure you keep the leg in a straight line rather than pulling the limb away from the body. Again, hold for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times on each leg. This will stretch the hamstring muscle group.
- Lateral Extension of Spine
Place one hand on the wither and the palm of your other hand on the point of hip. GENTLY place pressure on the point of hip in a straight line towards the back of the horse. Hold for 30seconds and repeat 3 times on each side. Some horses may find this one more difficult than others, take your time and increase the stretch slowly. If your horse tries to move away, ask for less stretch. If the muscles of the back are twitching hold the stretch and don’t ask for any more until this has stopped. Severe twitching may suggest your horse needs more quality time with the Massage Pad or with a Musculoskeletal Therapist.
- Back lift
Run your finger tips down the crease in the muscles on your horses’ hind quarters, to encourage you horse to tilt their pelvis and lift through the lumbosacral region. ‘Tickle’ the area to try and maintain the lift for 15 seconds, repeat 3 times. Don’t try this one if you know your horse can be a bit handy with their back legs!
Baited Stretches of the Head and Neck
These baited stretches are really easy to achieve using the high value, low sugar treats, Crunchits. This way you don’t need to worry about how many treats your horse is having. With each of these stretches try to maintain the position for 10-15 seconds before giving the treat and repeat this 3 times on each side. Maintain smooth movements without any snatching or grabbing; if your horse is having to try and grab it may mean you’re asking too much too soon, reduce the stretch and build up gradually. Try to ensure your horse is stood as square as possible for all these stretches
- Take the crunchit between the front legs close to the ground. This will stretch the muscles of the neck and back that make up the top line.
2. Take the crunchit between the horses’ front legs, ensuring he doesn’t start to twist at the poll. This will encourage greater flexion of the neck muscles, the poll, and cervical vertebrae.
3. Bring the crunchit around to the side to encourage lateral flexion. Aim for the horses’ shoulder.
4. From lateral flexion bring the crunchit down to ground level to stretch the muscles closer to the wither – these muscles are particularly important for self carriage.
5. Take the crunchit round to the flank to get an even greater lateral stretch.
6. Finally bring the crunchit forwards, trying to keep the neck horizontal and in line with the back to get full neck extension. Place your other hand on his shoulder to stop him from taking a step forwards and cheating!