Why stretching helps horses

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    Physiotherapists, chiropractors and osteopaths are keen on stretching exercises, both for people and for horses.

    In humans there is good evidence that regular sessions of such therapy are beneficial.

    But what about horses? Researchers in Michigan wanted to see if the effects reported in humans might be repeated in horses.

    The multifidus muscle is a segmental muscle that occurs at each joint between the vertebrae and assists in stabilising the joints.

    The scientists measured the cross-sectional size of this muscle at six places along the spine, from withers to pelvis, in eight Arabs.

    They then trained the horses to perform 10 different stretching and bending exercises, which were repeated five times for five days a week.

    The stretches were achieved by offering a piece of carrot at various points, such as low down between the front fetlocks, at the chest, at the shoulders, at the flanks and at the hocks.

    The horses were encouraged to stretch to reach the carrot and hold the position for five seconds.

    They were then rewarded with the carrot. The muscles were remeasured after three months.

    Two fascinating results became apparent.

    First, the degree of symmetry of the muscles improved after the training. Before the exercise programme, there was more difference in muscle size comparing left to right than at the end of it.

    But most significantly, the size of the muscle increased in all the horses. In most, it increased all the way down the spine.

    These results show that there are definite effects of such stretches, which look to be beneficial to the horse.

    This veterinary article was first published in the current issue of H&H (8 December 2011)

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