STRETCHING EXERCISES FOR HORSES
Increase Your Horse's Flexibility With 8 Simple Stretches
As our teammates and partners in the sport, our horses need to be treated like professional athletes so that they can perform their best. Basic stretching exercises before and after a training session can help your horse engage different muscles and increase flexibility to help with their performance under the saddle. Regardless of the discipline, age, and training level, every horse can benefit from good stretching work tailored to their performance and develop flexibility over time.
In this blog, the Equestroom Team has selected 8 simple stretching exercises that you can try before and after your next ride. So prepare the treats for your horse and note these down before heading to the barn!
BEFORE YOU START:
Before starting any kind of stretching exercise, make sure that your horse is relaxed and comfortable. Take any safety precautions if you are doing it for the first time and if you are not sure how your horse will react. Make sure your environment is safe. Get help from a barn bestie or trainer if you think it is needed.
Use treats and encouraging pats and remember to be patient. Begin each session with gentle pressure and gradually increase it as your horse becomes more comfortable. Start with your horse's preferred side to put them in a positive mood.
For each of the following exercises, stretch progressively for 4 seconds, hold the position for 2 seconds, and release. Then repeat 4 more times.
1. Forward Stretch: Begin by standing next to your horse and lifting one of their front legs, allowing them to adjust their balance. Place one hand behind the knee of the leg and use the other to support the toe. Pull the leg forward until it is fully extended and rest your elbows on your knees to support your back while holding the leg in place. Maintain the position until your horse leans into the stretch. It is important to note that this particular stretch is not recommended for horses with a history of lower limb ligament injuries.
2. Backward Stretch: To begin, lift either of your horse's front legs as if you were going to pick their hoof. Place one hand on the front of the knee and use your other hand to provide support to the front of the fetlock. While ensuring that the hoof is elevated and directed toward the hind leg, apply gentle pressure on the knee to extend the leg toward the hind leg.
3. Shoulder Flexing
To start, position yourself beside your horse and lift one of the front legs, allowing them to find their balance. Place your hand behind the knee of the raised leg and use the other hand to support the toe. Pull the leg forward gently until it is completely extended. Hold the stretch until your horse leans into it. Remember that this specific stretch is not recommended for horses who have previously experienced lower limb ligament injuries.
Hind Leg Stretching
4. Forward stretch: To perform the forward stretch, stand next to your horse facing their tail. Take the leg and bend it, then place one hand on the back of their fetlock and the other in the crease of the pastern. Gently stretch their leg forwards and downwards, as if you wanted them to touch the bottoms of their heels on the foreleg.
5. Backward stretch: For the backward stretch (retraction), take extra precautions for safety. Stand by your horse's hind leg facing the hindquarters, and ask for their hind leg on your side. Place the fold of the hock on your thigh, and move this thigh forward to create a split between your legs on the horse's side. Keep your other leg stretched behind you to maintain your balance. The goal is to make the hind leg go as far back as possible.
6. Chin to chest: Stand beside your horse's shoulder and face towards their head. Hold a treat in front of the chest and invite them to lower their chin towards their chest. Keep this position for a few seconds and then release. It's important to ensure that they don't lean onto their neck. Once your horse moves smoothly, you can gradually increase the difficulty by asking to bring their chin closer to their chest.
7. Side stretches: To begin this exercise, ask your horse to bend their neck in the direction and height of the hock joint. Keep in mind that the head should not touch the hock joint. It's alright if they keep their head far from their body, but don't force them if they step or lift a leg as this indicates difficulty with the exercise. Remember to perform this exercise on both sides. You can also vary it by bending low to the side towards the forefoot, which will target the long back muscle.
8. Between the legs: Encourage your horse to bend their head halfway between the front legs, and entice with a carrot to stretch as low to the ground and far back as possible. Hold the position for a moment, then allow your horse to slowly come back up and repeat the exercise a few times.
In conclusion, incorporating simple stretching exercises into your horse's routine can have a significant impact on their flexibility and overall performance. By following the tips and exercises provided in this blog, you can help your horse reach their full potential and have a happy, healthy riding journey with them.
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