Horse stretches are a great way to increase general suppleness and maintain muscle health, if conducted correctly. Stretching your horse should only be done after a warm up, or a workout, to reduce the risk of injury. Just as we need to warm up before an intense gym class - horses also need to do this too!
Horse stretches can contribute many benefits including increased muscle elasticity, better posture and reduced risk of injury... Stretches can also pinpoint problem areas such as muscle tightness and weaker areas that may require attention or professional intervention.
We have compiled 6 easy horse stretches that you can conduct at home to help with overall body flexibility and muscle health. Remember, if your horse is new to stretching, don't push them too hard. Start off with smaller stretches before working up to full extension - you don't want to do more damage than good!
Neck Extensor ('Carrot Stretch')
The neck extensor, more commonly referred to as the carrot stretch, is super fun and easy to perform. Start off by ensuring your horse is facing forward in a straight line. Use a carrot (or their favourite treat) and hold it near to the ground near their front legs. Allow your horse to bend down to collect the reward. Top tip - if your horse tries to grab the carrot, or treat, it may be because the stretch is too taxing... If this is the case, try holding the treat a little further forward and a tad higher (with patience and practice they will soon be able to stretch down and collect from the initial position.)
For greater flexion at the neck, try raising the carrot to their chest (between their two front legs) and get your horse to bend and collect the reward from this angle. When conducting the stretch, ensure your horse does not try and bend their poll and cheat to gain their reward!
Moving onto the lateral flexor, start by standing at your horse's shoulder and make them bend their neck to receive the treat at the shoulder. This bend is great for improving lateral flexion! Remember to work both shoulders to ensure an even stretch.
Too easy for your horse? Standing at your horse's flank, try and get your horse to complete the higher ability lateral flexor and receive their treat from the flank area - this stretch will generate an even bigger lateral stretch.
Top tip - if your horse tries to cheat and turn a circle, place them against a wall so they cannot move their haunches around.
Extended Shoulder Flexor
The extended shoulder flexor is a great stretch for shoulder suppleness. Start off by standing in front of your horse (be wary when conducting this stretch as you are in their direct path) and lift one of their front legs up. Once you have lifted their foot up, place on hand behind their foot, and with your other hand support their knee from behind. Once your hands are in position, extend the leg forward and lift up slightly to get the full stretch. Hold the stretch for around 10-20 seconds (depending on their flexibility and level) before slowly placing their leg back on the ground. Repeat the exercise a couple of times on each shoulder/leg for an even stretch.
To conduct the shoulder flexor you need to position yourself at the side of your horse, almost in an identical position to the one you stand in
stand near your horse's hip and face
when picking their hoofs out. Once you are stood comfortably, take the foot in your hand and bring it up to a 90 degree angle in line with their knee. Hold this stretch for approximately 10-20 seconds (depending on their ability) and lower gently on completed. Repeat this a couple of times on each forelimb to get an even stretch.
Hind Leg Extensor
To conduct this stretch, stand near your horses hip and face yourself to their rear before picking up one of their hind legs. Make sure the leg is straight and not protruding out to the side of them... Once your horse has gained a solid balance, extend the leg forward until you can feel tension in their muscle. Hold the stretch for approximately 30 seconds (or less depending on their ability) and return to a natural stance gently. Repeat this stretch a couple of times on each hind leg to ensure an even stretch of the hamstring muscle.
Tail stretches are a great indicator towards your horse's back health... When conducting this stretch ensure you are alert, as you are in a very vulnerable position at the rear of your horse. Start off by standing behind your horse (about an arms length away from them) and take hold of their tail at the bottom of the tail bone. Align the tail with their spine and gently pull the tail towards you. When you initially take the gentle pull, monitor your horse's behaviour and be prepared to move if they are uncomfortable or unhappy. If they are happy for this stretch to be conducted, gently pull and hold for a few seconds before releasing slowly. You can work up to holding the stretch for around 2 minutes with practice!
You should be aware that if your horse is resentful of this stretch it may be an indication of back issues. If you horse is showing signs of resentment it may be a good idea to seek professional advice from a physiotherapist, or someone who specialises in horse backs.
Stretching is a great way to boost flexibility and suppleness in horses. If you follow these simple tips you should start to see the benefits. Please remember that horses who are new to stretching should start off with less strenuous exercises, and build up to full extension with time. Always remember to warm your horse up before you begin to avoid any injury. Have fun with them and you will soon reap the benefits of horse stretches!