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Stretching Exercises for Your Horse

Use these quick and easy stretches from massage therapist Peter Atkins to increase your horse's under-saddle flexibility.

The exercise:
Carrot stretches.

The goal:
To increase the flexibility and range of motion in your horse's neck and back.

Tips

  • Watch your fingers to avoid an inadvertent bite.
  • If your horse steps away from you with his hind legs, he's trying to get the carrot by swinging his front end toward it, rather than bending his body. That's because he's stiff, and the stretch is hard for him. Position him next to a stall or barn-aisle wall to block that evasion.
  • If your horse has trouble reaching as far as you've asked him to, or holding that position, start with a lesser degree of stretch until his muscles relax and become more flexible.
  • Look for differences in the angle of your horse's head as he reaches for the carrot on his right and left sides. He might tilt his head one way on his left side, and another way on his right side. That means he's stiffer on one side than the other. Move the carrot around, and up and down, getting him to chase the morsel until he bends easily on both sides.
  • Be sure to make your horse hold the stretch for the described amount of time. If you were to let him simply reach around and snatch the carrot, you'd be negating the flexibility benefits of the exercise. (The waiting game will also make him less likely to get pushy about the carrots. He'll quickly learn that you control when he gets a treat, not him.)
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Performance benefit:
You'll relax your horse's neck and back muscles, which will make them more supple, helping to reduce stiffness and resistance; you'll also help even up a one-sided horse.

What you'll need:
A handful of carrots; a halter and lead rope.

Frequency:
If your horse is stiff through his neck, perform the stretches every time you ride him for a month, or until you notice an increase in flexibility and suppleness. After that point, perform the exercises once a week. For maximum benefit, perform those stretches just before you ride.

Before you begin:
Halter your horse, and ask him to stand squarely in an area with good, level footing.

Step 1:
Positioned on your horse's left side, squat at a point off to the side and slightly behind his front leg, as shown. Break a carrot into a bite-size piece, then hold it to his mouth, gradually drawing down his head with the "bait" until his nose reaches a point level with and just behind his left front fetlock. Ask him to hold that position for 10 to 15 seconds, then give him the carrot piece as a reward. Repeat two to three times.

Step 2:
Stand next to your horse's barrel. Using another carrot treat, ask him to bring his nose to his girth area, just behind his left elbow. Have him hold it there for 10 to 15 seconds, then feed him and release. Repeat two to three times. For added degree of difficulty, ask him to bring his nose to his withers and hold it there. This will be hard for him, so be patient, working him to that site gradually. Reward/release, then repeat each stretch on his right side.

Step 3:
Squat next to your horse's left front leg. Hold a piece of carrot between his front legs, asking him to reach down to his fetlocks to fetch it as he stretches his neck and back, as shown. Hold for 10 to 12 seconds, reward, and repeat.

For massage-therapist Peter Atkins' performance-enhancing back-stretch exercises, see "Back Lift" in the September 2000 issue of Horse & Rider magazine.

Posted in Alternative Therapies, Anatomy | Leave a comment

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