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Think of your horse as the athlete, even if he is a retired weekend warrior. Any athlete needs elasticity of the muscles, tendons and ligaments allowing for more controlled movements to avoid muscle pulls or strains. Stretching exercises increase the stretch tolerance of the muscles as well as the connective tissue.
Before stretching, warm up the muscles with walking and trotting either through lunging exercises or leading by hand. Five to ten minutes will have most horses warmed up and ready to stretch.
Points to remember:
- Stretching should be done in an easy, even and relaxed manner.
- When lifting the horse?s legs, use your entire body, not just your back.
- Hold the horse?s leg throughout the full extension or flexing exercise.
- DO NOT bounce the limb or jerk the limb - this can cause the muscles to tighten - which is the opposite of the desired result.
- If the horse holds the leg in position where it is placed, the stretch is well within the horse's capabilities and flexibility. DO NOT tug on the limbs when doing the stretches - this can cause tears in the muscle tissue.
- If the horse moves his leg backward or away from the stretch, the horse is uncomfortable and he's letting you know this stretch is beyond his capabilities and flexibility. (This can be improved as the routine is continued and repeated before each workout program).
- Hold all exercises for a count of five.
- Never stretch an acutely torn muscle. Contact your veterinarian and allow the muscle to heal.
Stretch 1: Grasp the halter and place the free arm at the poll or just behind. Slowly move the horse's head toward the ground. Allow the horse to bring the head back up. Repeat the exercise, lowering the head more each time (2-3 repeats).
Stretch 2 (Carrot Stretch): Grasp the halter and place the free arm midway on the neck.
Gently pull the horse's head toward you. A carrot can be used to entice the horse to follow you toward the shoulder - stretching the neck. Repeat 2-3 times on both sides.
Shoulder and Upper Leg (Triceps) Flexion Stretch: Grasp the horse's leg behind the knee area. Bring the knee directly upward, to the point where resistance is felt. Hold leg for the count of five. Slowly replace leg to original position. Repeat 2-3 times on both front legs.
Shoulder Stretch and Flex: Grasp the horse's leg behind knee and at the fetlock. Bring knee upwards toward the shoulder. Slowly extend the horse's knee toward your knees to full shoulder extension. Gently pull horse's toe as far forward as horse will permit. Repeat 2-3 times on both front legs.
Run fingers along the center of the horse's abdomen from its forearm to its navel. Use strong pressure to make horse flex its back. Repeat 3-5 times.
HIP, BUTTOCKS, REAR LEG STRETCH
Stretch 1: Grasp hind leg at the hock area. Gently lift leg off the ground and stretch back slightly. Repeat 2-3 times with each leg
Stretch 1: Hip, Buttocks, Rear Leg Stretch
Stretch 2: Grasp hind leg at hock area. Gently lift off the ground (as done in first stretch). Slide both hands toward pastern area and stretch leg straight back and hold for count of five. Repeat 2-3 times with both rear legs.
Photos credits: Thank you to Betsy Kelleher and to Traveller, Rocky and Lady.
Lynette Partridge-Schneider is a certified equine sports massage therapist whose modalities include Reiki, acupressure, trigger point and behavior/communications, among others. She is available for seminars and clinics on massage therapy, stretching, and show judging as well as other topics. Email: QRRehabServices@aol.com