Updated: Mar 1
Flexibility, suppleness and core strength are phrases you often hear in the horsey world. Carrot Stretches, or Dynamic Mobilisation Exercises (to use their fancy name) are a fun, easy and effective way to improve flexibility, suppleness and core strength... whether that's for an eventer, dressage horse, happy hacker or a retired oldie.
NOTE: before incorporating these stretches into your horse's routine, it is highly beneficial to have first undergone an initial veterinary physiotherapy assessment with a qualified professional. 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 (as I have been, those fingers do look like little carrots).
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 perform these 4 basic 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, lifts the abdominals and stretches the back and neck musculature.
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 - but be careful not to "over-stretch" at first - don't attempt to go further than the horse can comfortably go without bending their knees.
Exension through the poll and neck is often over-looked, but an important way to facilitate 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 daily where possible.
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 (why it's important to consult your veterinary physiotherapist).