Stretching = Your Horse, Only Better!

We have all it heard many times…. Stretch your muscles before and after you exercise.  But did you ever stop and think that this applies to your horse too? 
Your horse is an athlete and just like human athletes (and non-athletes too!) their muscles need attention to remain healthy.  Your horse's muscles can become tight, stiff, sore, strained or even develop tears.  Stretching the muscles is an important part of maintaining overall muscle health. 
“We do not think enough about injury prevention.  By warming up the horse and then putting it through some stretches, we can increase range of motion and enable the horse to perform more fluidly and to the best of its ability,” said Dr. Jack Root, DVM, Oakhurst Equine Veterinary Services and Owner, Grindstone 1996 Kentucky Derby winner.  

Stretching has all the following benefits....
  • Helps improve flexibility and range of motion (ROM) thereby enabling your horse to perform to the best of their ability and reduce the pain that can accompany tight muscles
  • Helps prevent injury by strengthening supportive tissue and helping to guard against muscle tightness and tendon shortening
  • Helps reduce post-exercise soreness, stiffness and muscle fatigue
  • Helps improve disposition by relaxing the horse
  • Helps provide early warning signs of a potential injury and can aid in injury rehabilitation
  • Helps all riders bond with their horse
Why Does Stretching Help?  Just a Bit of Science….
Muscles are made up of several muscle bundles, which in turn are made up of muscle fibers. Muscle fibers have bundles of myofibrils, which are rod-like structures that run parallel to one another.  Muscles are covered by fascia, a fibrous tissue, to which other muscles can attach.  Muscles attach to bone via tendons.  That's it on the science!  I promise!

When a muscle is overused or underused, the bundles, fibers and fascia respond by shrinking or tightening which can cause stiffness, discomfort and negatively impact performance.  As explained by Dr. Ava Frick, DVM, "Stiffness can result in injury, leading to inactivity, and eventually speed up the aging of the musculoskeletal system.  To remain supple, the connective tissue and muscles need regular stretching.  Stretching helps resist the gradual shortening and tightening of tissue that otherwise sets in from both underuse and overuse, reducing discomfort and slowing the progressive loss of capacity that accompanies tightening."  See Stretching Exercises For Horses:  Are They Effective?, Dr. Ava Frick, DVM, Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, Vol. 30 No. 1 (2010)

Do I Need to be an Experienced Rider to Learn to Stretch My Horse?

No!  Absolutely not!  The great news is that everyone can learn to safely and effectively stretch their horse's muscles regardless of riding ability or experience with a bit of practice.  And, since the SYH Coach videos can be replayed as many times as desired right at your horse’s side, it is almost like getting personalized horse stretching instruction!  

“The stretches Ilene taught me were a wonderful addition to my lesson horse, Wyatt’s, regimen. I was so impressed with the results, I started doing stretches with all of my horses, and I taught all of my students how to do stretches too!  I highly recommend stretching to anyone who wants to do everything possible to help their horse be successful in their work and happy in their body."  Andrea Quale, Dressage and Western Trainer,
Help get the word out about the importance of stretching!  It is an important, though often overlooked, aspect of horse healthcare.  “If you want to enhance your horse’s performance, prevent injury and save money on vet and bodyworker bills, I highly recommend stretching!”  Rebekah Larimer, 
Dressage, Hunter/Jumper and WesternTrainer,

Introduction to Horse Stretching: Learn the Fundamentals
Watch the Introduction to Horse Stretching video now!  Learn about how to safely and effectively stretch your horse. Avoid the common mistakes many riders make!

Top 10 Horse Stretching Guidelines

1) Safety first.…for both rider and horse!!  Be aware of your surroundings prior to starting any stretch.  Practice good ergonomics and body mechanics when helping your horse stretch.  Stretches can be performed in cross-ties, a single tie, a ground tie, or with a holder depending on your horse.

2) All stretches should be performed on warm muscles.  Stretching cold muscles can cause tears, strains and other injuries and issues.

3) No cheating!! Proper stretching form is critical for your horse to gain the maximum benefit of the stretch. Proper form and less stretch is better than poor form and more stretch.  Most horses are a lot smarter than you think when it comes to finding ways to “cheat the stretch.”

4) Most stretches can be performed up to 5 days a week on a healthy horse with the exception of tail pull stretches which should not be performed more than 4 days per week.

5) The frequency and type of stretches that are appropriate for a horse recovering from an injury can vary greatly. Do not assume that a stretch that was appropriate for a horse with an injury similar to your horse’s injury is appropriate for your horse.

6) The duration of the stretch will vary depending on many factors such as muscle tightness, prior injury, conformation, and nutrition level.  Generally, start with a 5-10 second hold time and gradually increase to 30 seconds.

7) Never push or pull on joints or support a stretch by pressing on a joint.

8) Breathing deeply and relaxing your hands as much as possible will help your horse gain the maximum benefit of the stretch.

9) Never proceed with a stretch if discomfort or pain is noted.

10) Not all stretches contained in Stretch Your Horse Coach videos are appropriate for every horse. Always consult an equine healthcare professional prior to beginning a stretching regimen.