Stretching The Horse
There is no doubt that our horses are talented athletes. Just as human athletes need to look after themselves following exertion, so to do our horses. There are many stretches that can be used to help keep their bodies in shape. When administered correctly stretching will increase circulation to muscles, loosen up joints and the spaces between vertebrae, leading to increased range of movement and a reduced risk of injury.
Stretching is safe for any healthy horse when administered correctly and is essential for all equine athletes. You should however always consult your vet first and ensure you have been shown by a professional how to administer stretches correctly.
Stretching provides an abundance of benefits and the most rewarding aspect of all is that they are achieved by you. Here are just some of the benefits:
- Improves performance
- Increases range of motion which allows the horse a longer stride and improved gait quality
- Flexible muscles require less exertion thus using less energy reducing fatigue in your horse
- Lateral movements are enhanced due to increased range of motion
- Improved flexibility improves shock absorption which reduces the risk of injury
- Improves circulation
- Improves the strength of a muscle contraction
- Lengthens and stretches any scar tissue that is present in the tendons promoting realignment of fibre
- Reduces muscular fatigue, pain, and stiffness following exercise
When we exercise our horses, groups of muscles contract to allow a particular movement. When a muscle contraction occurs the muscle fibres shorten to create the energy. This shortening does not, however, return to its ‘normal’ length following exercise. If you never stretch your horse, each time you exercise him his muscle gets shorter and shorter which will eventually lead to lameness, injury, or muscular pain.
The idea of stretching, therefore, is not to provide excessive range of motion for the horse, but to return the musculature to its ‘normal’ flexible state.
Stretching exercises are more effective on "warm" muscles because the soft tissue is more elastic, easier to stretch, and less likely to be damaged. Thus the best time to stretch your horse is after a short warm-up routine or after you have ridden. You should plan on taking about 10 minutes to perform the exercises. Slow, gentle stretches are more effective and less likely to cause injury to you or your horse. Never jerk or pull against a horse that is resisting. Simply stop and ask again.
Apply the stretch slowly
- If you take a horse into a stretch quickly you will cause a reflex response. This causes the muscle to actually tighten and you risk injury.
- Slowly and gently at all times. If you take up a stretch and you feel your horses’ resistance do not pull against that resistance. By doing so you will injure the horse. Wait for him to relax and give you his weight and than increase the stretch further. If he doesn’t like the stretch he may be sore so try again another day.
Remember your horse will not be used to a stretching routine so you are training him to accept the stretches. As your horse begins to understand, over time, what you are doing you will achieve a larger stretch. But this does take time so be patient and start small.
The following is a list of Basic Stretches that I find effective. You may do all of these stretches every day, or you may try different ones on different days to measure their individual effectiveness for your horse and your activities. Once you find the exercises that work best for your horse, in the amount of time you can provide, you will have created a warm up routine tailored to the needs of your horse.
This stretches poll muscles
This stretches all the muscles on the outside of the neck
This stretches all neck muscles
Nose to Floor:
This stretches the topline
The Girth Stretch:
This stretches shoulder, chest, and back muscles.
The Farrier Stretch:
This stretches the upper thigh muscles and hip flexor
This stretches the hamstrings (semitendinosus and semimembranosus)
This stretches the quadriceps on the outside of the horses’ leg
This stretches the topline
This stretches lateral neck muscles
Tutorials and pictures of these type of stretches can be found by searching the web or simply ask your horses therapist to take you through them
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