Veterinary physiotherapist Hayley Marsh offers a variety of strengthening exercises to do at home — including stretches to increase muscle length, flexibility, suppleness and joint range of motion
The aim when teaching your horse stretches
When you are stretching your horse you’re looking to increase muscle length, flexibility, suppleness and joint range of motion, which all play a major part in stride length. Stretching also improves core stability.
Horse stretching exercises
1. Leg stretches
Pick up the horse’s foreleg and, with both hands on the fetlock, ease the leg forwards towards the horse’s nose and hold for 10 seconds. For the hindleg stretch (pictured above), gently ease the hindleg forwards towards the foreleg and hold for 10 seconds. Start these exercises low to the ground then, as the horse becomes more supple to the movement, you can ask for more range.
2. Carrot stretches
Using a carrot, persuade the horse to bring his head down between his front legs. Encourage him to stretch as far as it is comfortable and hold the stretch for 10 seconds. Next, stand with your back to the horse’s shoulder and encourage him to bend his head and neck around you, ideally keeping his head vertical, and aim for the direction of the back fetlock. Aim for a smooth stretch — not a snatch — and hold for 10 seconds.
Tips and pitfalls
- Always perform these exercises when the horse has been warmed up first.
- Avoid any jerky movements.
- Make sure the horse keeps his head straight in the carrot stretches, as any tipping or twisting of the nose is an evasion.
- Never force the horse into a stretch, only guide him.
- When you girth your horse up, it’s important to stretch his front legs forwards to avoid the girth pinching the skin and muscles around the girth area, which can lead to serious pain and sensitivity.
- Never stretch your horse while he is tied up, and make sure the footing is not slippery.
For the full feature about strengthening exercises to do with your horse at home, don’t miss this week’s issue of Horse & Hound magazine (25 January 2018)