Updated: Jul 12, 2019
Flexibility and suppleness are two words you often hear in the horsey world. But how do you actually achieve this? There are a huge range of stretches and exercises you can do with your horse. This post demonstrates and explains 4 simple, basic stretches that you can incorporate into your horses' routine.
NOTE: before incorporating these stretches into your horse's routine, it is highly beneficial to have first undergone an initial physiotherapy assessment. This ensures that the stretches performed are appropriate for your horse.
Safety always comes first. Start on a level surface, ideally in an enclosed space such as a stable, but with enough room to move around. I would always recommend putting a head collar on the horse, and wearing gloves to prevent your fingers from being nibbled on!
Your horse may find these stretches difficult at first - allow him to stretch for as far as is comfortable, and never force him into a stretch as that may cause injury. Take time to practice, and the stretches will get better over time.
Using a carrot (or his favourite treat) ask your horse to stand square, then encourage him to stretch and bend into these 4 positions:
Chin to Chest.
This is a great way to flex the poll area, where many horses carry tension.
Chin between knees.
Flexes the vertebral joints at the base of the neck, and stretches the back and neck muscles.
Chin between fetlocks.
This is great for a big stretch to the neck and back muscles, as well as improving core strength and balance.
As your horse gets better at this, you can move the treat further under the body to increase the amount of core strength required - almost like us doing sit ups!
This also moves the poll area through a full range of motion.
How often should I do this?
Research shows that performing these types of stretches 4x weekly can improve overall flexibility and performance, as well as reduce the symptoms of back pain associated with muscle spasm and tightness. I would recommend performing these stretches after exercise, 3-4x weekly.
Each stretch should be held for 10-15 seconds (if tolerated) and can be repeated 2-3 times each session.
When should they not be used?
Horses who have severe back pain, neurological issues or great difficulties in balancing may struggle. However, that does not mean that the stretches cannot be adapted to suit the individual.
These simple stretches are just the start of a huge range of exercises that you can perform with your horse. Get in touch with me and we can work together to create personalised exercise plans to suit your horse's needs.