If your horse is particularly active in competitive sports such as vaulting, barrel racing or show jumping, then stretching your horse regularly is of utmost importance. What’s key to remember is that the best time to stretch your horse is right after a workout, as that’s when its muscles are already warmed up.
Stretching a horse reduces the risk of injury while improving its overall flexibility and performance. It can also help alleviate pain in some areas of the body. The most important stretching exercises you can do for your horse involve working the forelimbs, hind limbs, back, trunk, and neck.
For some of these exercises, you might want someone to hold your horse as you’re stretching it. For others, you can use treats to encourage the horse to move its head in a certain direction.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you should always stretch your horse in a clear area. If you decide to use crossties, use them with care in order to prevent injuries. Below, you will find some useful stretching exercises for horses, each focusing on a specific body area.
Stretching a horse’s back, neck, and trunk.
Spinal extensor for the back.
In order to stretch the back, you might want to start off with a spinal extensor. This exercise relies on stimulating a specific area at the base of the tail in order to get the horse to arch its back. I prefer to use scratches.
The first thing you need to do is position yourself properly behind the horse or just to its side in order to avoid getting kicked. Proceed to scratch using both hands around four inches down either side of the tail’s base. Your horse should respond to these scratches by arching its back. Once that happens, stop scratching and allow your horse to relax. Repeat this exercise a few more times in order to stretch out the horse’s back.
Lateral flexor/neck extensor.
The lateral flexor stretch is great for horses that are generally involved in turning or performing circular turns. You’ll need to use a treat for this, preferably something elongated such as a carrot or some blades of grass.
Stand at your horse’s shoulder area and start to perform a few steps backward, luring the horse’s nose towards its barrel using the treat. At first, the horse might not be able to extend its neck very far but constantly performing the exercise could yield great results. Eventually, it might even be able to reach its hip area. Of course, you should give the treat to the horse once the exercise reaches completion.
For the neck extensor, you’re going to use a treat as well, but this time around you will guide the horse’s neck in various other positions.
For instance, hold the treat close to the ground between the horse’s hooves. As it moves down to pick up the treat, the exercise will stretch the horse’s entire topline. Alternatively, holding the carrot between his knees will encourage him to stretch his poll all the way to his loins. Holding the treat against the horse’s chest will encourage stretching from the poll to the base of his neck.
Stretching the hind limbs.
For stretching the hind limbs, there are three main exercises that you could try out with your horse.
Hip flexor stretch.
The first is the hip flexor stretch. In order to do it properly, you’ll have to stand next to either hind limb and lift it up as if you were a farrier that’s about to pick the horse’s hoof. You’re not going to do that, of course. Instead, you’ll simply place one hand on the hock and your other hand on the front of the fetlock. The key here is not to exert any downward force on the hock – the goal is to push the fetlock out towards the back of the horse.
You’ll want to stretch the leg fully behind the horse, but watch out for his body language and for any signs of pain. This is not an easy exercise to perform, particularly on a stiff and challenging horse. Take things slow and progress incrementally until you achieve your desired results. Eventually, this exercise is worth going through because it can greatly improve a horse’s range of motion.
Hip extensors and stifle flexors.
The next two exercises focus on the hip extensors and stifle flexors. Again, you’ll want to position yourself next to either hind limb and lift it up as if you are about to pick the hoof. This time, though, place your hand on the fetlock and hold the toe area with your other hand.
Make sure to not exert any downward force on the hock, and pull the leg forward towards the front limbs until it is fully extended. Ideally, the horse should start leaning into the stretch after you’ve kept the leg extended for long enough. This is a great stretching exercise if your horse has short striding in the hind.
Stretching the forelimbs.
For the forelimbs, we’re mainly going to focus on the shoulder flexors and extensors. Overall, there are three main stretching exercises that you could try with your horse for improved forelimb flexibility and range of motion.
Starting off with the shoulder extensor group, you’ll want to pick up either front leg and place one hand on the front of the knee while you support the front of the fetlock with the other.
In order to execute this stretch properly, the hoof needs to point up towards the hind leg, at which point you can start pushing on the knee in order to make the foreleg extend towards the hind leg.
Hold this position until the horse begins to lean into the stretch. If you encounter resistance, and you probably will, it’s important to not force things in order to keep the risk of muscle pulling to a minimum. For horses with tense chest and shoulder areas, the Shoulder Extensor is very useful and highly recommended.
Two shoulder flexors.
Next up, we’ll focus on two shoulder flexor exercises, the first of which works the horse’s shoulder flexor group and the elbow extensor group. To perform this stretch, face your horse and lift either front limb with a short pause in order to allow the horse to regain its balance.
Next, use both of your hands to support the back of the knee and hold the cannon bone against your own thigh. Now you can pull the leg in an upward and downward motion in order to initiate the stretch.
You can try out this flexor if your horse experiences stiff shoulder areas or short striding in the front.
The second shoulder flexor exercise works the equine’s carpal flexor, elbow extensor group, and shoulder extensor group. Just like before, grab either front leg and allow the horse to regain its balance. Then, place one hand behind the horse’s knee while supporting the toe area with the other hand. It’s always very important to provide proper support during these stretching exercises.
Pull the leg forward for a fully extended position. If you experience any discomfort in your back, you can support yourself by resting your elbows on your knees. Hold the horse’s leg in the extended position until it begins to lean into the stretch. If your horse has experienced any injuries to its lower ligaments in the past, this exercise is not for him. Otherwise, you can definitely try it out but be mindful of the horse’s body language at all times.
Stretching a horse after a good workout is a great way to improve its mobility and flexibility while alleviating muscular pain. However, it’s very important to follow the instructions above carefully in order to minimize the risk of muscle damage. If you’re unsure of what to do, you can always call on a professional to perform these stretches for you.
What I’d recommend is watching someone else perform these stretches a few times before actually attempting them yourself. After all, a horse’s muscular system is complex and requires a bit of know-how to stretch in an effective and safe manner.
Have you ever stretched your horse before? If so, let me know what kind of exercises you employed, and what kind of results you managed to obtain.