Things to Avoid When Stretching Your Horse
Updated: Dec 27, 2021
Stretching is an important part of training for any athlete to help keep muscles loose, elastic and supple and tight muscles are more susceptible to injury.
While there are many benefits to stretching including improved circulation, increased range of motion and decreased muscle soreness and fatigue, you must be careful when stretching your horse’s muscles as using too much force or doing the stretches incorrectly can injure or damage otherwise healthy tissue. Here are a few tips on things to avoid when performing stretches with your horse.
1. Only stretch warm muscles.
There are two kinds of stretches: active and passive. In an active stretch, the horse controls how far the muscles, ligaments, tendons get pulled. This includes things like the big stretches you see horses do after a long trailer ride or when getting up from lying down. Because the horse controls the movement, the likelihood of them injuring themselves is lower. In a passive stretch, such as leg reaches, the handler is the one controlling the stretch. These stretches aren’t really natural to the horse and because they can’t talk to us, they can’t tell us when we’ve gone too far or something is uncomfortable. These types of stretches are best for after a workout when the muscles are warmed up to reduce the risk of pulling a too tight muscle, tendon, etc.
2. Don’t put you or your horse in a vulnerable position.
We all know horses can act unpredictably so it is important to give yourself enough room to get out of the way if they move or react quickly. Your stance is also important ergonomically. By assuming a correct, wide stance, and bending at the knees, not only will you save your back and joints, but if the horse does react, you are less likely to be pushed or pulled around. Same goes for your horse. Perform stretches on solid footing so they can keep their balance better. It is best to perform stretches in a more open area rather than in a stall so that if the horse moves, they are less likely to get caught up or run into something if they move. Performing stretches while your horse is in cross ties or tied up may not be the best solution if they need to use their head and neck to balance. Ask a friend to hold your horse or have the horse ground tie.
3. Stretching is not a competition.
The goal of stretching is not to see how far you can stretch each time you do it. The object of stretching is to relax muscle tension to promote freer movement. Always start stretches out slowly so that the horse’s body doesn’t go into fight or flight mode and tense up, which will defeat the purpose of the stretch. Horses (and humans) have a natural stretch reflex that will cause the muscle to contract to try and avoid it from being stretched and potentially torn. Let your horse ease into the stretch, never pull, until you feel a very slight resistance. Hold here and let the muscles elongate. After stretching, release the limb to the ground slowly. If you just drop the hoof down to the ground, you run the risk of damaging the tendons and ligaments in the leg.