Learn how to stretch your horse to help improve suppleness

  • 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

    Understanding how to stretch your horse is a useful skill for every horse owner and rider to have. Stretches can help keep a horse maintain their mobility, and increase core stability. It is important that you do not ask a cold horse to stretch. The horse’s body should be warmed up first, either by some form of exercise or some hands-on massage techniques.

    The aim when stretching your horse

    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.

    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, you can gradually ask for more range.

    If your horse snatches the leg away, you may have asked for too much so next time try again with a smaller motion.

    Do not try to hold the leg in position if the horse is resisting the movement, move with the horse, wait for any tension in the leg to subside, and then ask again.

    If the horse finds the stretches difficult, allow them to place the leg back on the ground and rest before trying again with a smaller movement.

    2. Carrot stretches

    Using a carrot or other treat, encourage the horse to bring his head slowly down between his front legs. Encourage him to stretch as far as it is comfortable and hold the stretch for 10 seconds. You can varying the position of the head between the legs from just below the sternum, to between the knees, to down between the fetlocks. Do not go so deep that the horse bends their knees or the front legs start to shake.

    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. Repeat this on both sides.

    How to stretch your horse: 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.
    • After you girth your horse up, it’s important to gently 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.
    • Do not stretch your horse while he is tied up, and make sure the footing is not slippery.

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