Daily stretching exercises loosen up your horse and make for nicer movements. Right? That’s the conclusion of American/Australian research into the effect of stretching on horse movement. Stretching can supplement training, help maintain a horse’s strength during an injury, and have a therapeutic effect after for example colic surgery. It is also a great way to warm up or cool down the horse to increase flexibility for your horse’s muscles.
Movement and stabilization
American veterinarian Dr. Hilary Clayton, along with Australian physiotherapist Dr. Narelle Stubbs, developed several stretching exercises whose effects they have studied. The research showed that stretching exercises can work very well for horses. “The horses that do our stretching exercises perform better in multiple disciplines. This is because they become more flexible. In addition, it ensures that the important muscles for the mobility and stabilization of the neck and back, are activated and strengthened. The beneficial effects are especially evident in highly collected gaits,” Clayton says.
Studies at the University of Michigan’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine confirmed that some very important muscles in the horse’s back are inhibited and do not work when the horse is in pain. The function of these muscles is to stabilize the intervertebral joints, which, among other things, prevents the development of arthritis. Even after the back pain symptoms are gone, these important muscles that provide stabilization are not activated. Unless the horse does specific exercises to put these muscles back to work. This can be done with the so-called carrot exercises where you use a treat to entice the horse to take a certain position.
Activating and strengthening muscle
“The dynamic mobilization exercises activate and strengthen the back muscles. This could be demonstrated by means of an ultrasound machine that determines the size of the muscles. We then went on to measure that with a group of lesson horses, both before they had used our exercises and after doing the exercises five days a week for three months. The back muscles showed a significant increase in size near the chest and loins.”
In addition, Clayton concluded that the exercises are not only beneficial for horses in sport, but also to maintain strength in horses during a rest period due to injury and to recover after colic surgery. “After colic surgery, the muscles of the abdomen are often stretched and lose their resilience. Our exercises activate these muscles and prevent the so-called hanging belly that many horses develop after such an operation. However, the exercises should not be started earlier than one month after the colic surgery and only after the veterinarian has given his approval.”
Take precautions before stretching
Stretch your horse in a clear area with no obstacles around the horse. Preferably stretch your horse after his muscles have been warmed up. Try to find some help and have someone hold your horse for you.