Most people know that stretching is an integral part of exercise for athletes. Stretching can improve flexibility, range of motion, and performance, can increase blood flow, and decrease the risk of injury, among other benefits (1).
But did you know, all of these benefits are not limited to human athletes? Horses are athletes too and stretching is an important part of keeping them healthy and performing their best.
What horses need to be stretched?
Stretching can be beneficial to all horses, but there are a few groups of horses to whom stretching is even more necessary.
High performance equine athletes deal with a lot of stress placed on muscle groups, tendons, ligaments, and joints. Stretching these horses can help promote healing if any damage occurs and may also improve their performance as well (2).
Another category of horses who can particularly benefit from stretching is stalled horses (2). Horses who are housed in stalls may not get the natural stretching that comes with grazing and voluntary activity, so they will need extra attention to ensure that their muscles and joints are moving properly.
Additionally, horses who consistently work in one discipline without cross training may have muscle groups that are rarely, if ever, utilized, so stretching can help engage and strengthen those muscle groups (2).
Teaching a horse to stretch out
There are many methods and techniques available to stretch your horse. The first way you should stretch your horse is under-saddle. Stretching under saddle can be achieved by lengthening the reins several inches at a time and allowing the horse to stretch forward and downward, maintaining balance throughout the body and a steady contact in the reins. Your horse should not come behind the bit or fall on the forehand while stretching. Stretching under saddle can be done at all gaits but will take time to develop and should be performed every day (3).
While stretching under-saddle is beneficial, it should not substitute good stretching on the ground. The best way to develop a proper stretching routine for your horse is to consult a rehabilitation facility, equine chiropractor, or a veterinarian who specializes in equine physiotherapy (2).
Simple exercises that use a treat to encourage stretching (‘carrot stretches for horses’) to improve mobility in the neck muscles and along the back are commonly used in day-to-day barn routines. There are many resources online that outline stretch exercises for your horse; Just ensure that you use credible sources who have appropriate qualifications.
Once you have been able to develop a regimen for your horse, it is important to be consistent with stretching. Ideally, this should be performed by the same person each day so that the horse’s reaction to stretching and improvements in mobility can be monitored.
The range of motion should be gradually increased over time to promote continued improvement of suppleness (2). Additionally, it is important to make sure that stretching is done in a location that is quiet, calm, and comfortable to the horse, to prevent any stress that may cause unnecessary tension (2).
In addition to a quality horse training and stretching program, FullBucket’s Medical Muscle can help promote muscle performance and recovery. By adding Medical Muscle to your horse’s diet, you can help ensure they are set up to be the best athlete they can be!