Stretching is a must-have before and after exercise. Doing your workout without a pre and post-stretching could put too much pressure on your muscles and you end up sore the whole week.
While stretching has become our mantra, did we ever stop and think if horses need stretching too? Just like human athletes, your horse needs their muscles to be on top condition too. If you want your horse to take you to greater heights in your horse riding career, it’s important that you maintain its overall health. Your horse could get its muscle strained, sore, stiff or tight and stretching its muscle is an effective way of avoiding this to happen.
What Are the Benefits of Stretching a Horse’s Muscles?
Dr. Jack Root, DVM, Oakhurst Equine Veterinary Services and Owner, Grindstone 1996 Kentucky Derby winner said, “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.”
By safely and effective stretching the muscles of your horse, you reap the following benefits:
- Maximizing the performance of your horse as stretching helps improve flexibility and range of motion (ROM).
- Prevents injury by helping to guard against tendon shortening and muscle tightness and strengthening supportive tissue.
- Helps reduce post-exercise muscle fatigue, stiffness and soreness.
- Helps the horse to relax and improve its disposition.
- Helps provide early warning signs of a potential injury and can help in rehabilitation of injury.
- Helps improve the bond between the rider and the horse.
Science Explains Why Stretching Helps
Muscles are made up of several muscle bundles, which in turn are made up of muscle fibers. These muscle fibers have bundles of myofibrils, which are rod-like structures that run parallel to one another. Other muscles can attach other muscles with the help of a fibrous tissue called fascia. Tendons attach the muscles to the bone.
When there is an underuse or overuse of muscle, the afore-mentioned structures tighten or shrink which can result to discomfort, stiffness and negatively impact performance. Dr. Ava Frick, DVM, explained, “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 set in from both underuse and overuse, reducing discomfort and slowing the progressive loss of capacity that accompanies tightening.”
Do I Have to be an Experienced Rider to Stretch My Horse?
The great news is you don’t need to be an experienced rider to be qualified to stretch your horse’s muscles. Regardless of your riding ability or experience, anyone can learn how to perform horse stretching safely and effectively. There are many instructional videos and helpful articles that you can get your hands on. Read and watch as much of these useful guides as you can.
Andrea Quale of AndreasHorseTraining.com said, “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 stretch 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.”
Many people overlook stretching when it comes to horse healthcare. As a rider, it’s your responsibility to make sure that your horse is at its optimum health. It’s pretty clear that there are plenty of advantages in horse stretching. Not only does it prevent horse injury, it also helps improve the performance of your horse. Plus, when your horse is at its optimum health, you get to save money on vet and body worker bills.
Guidelines in Horse Stretching
- Safety first for both the rider and the horse – Prior to stretching, examine your surroundings first and check if it’s safe and conducive for stretching. When helping your horse stretch, don’t forget to practice good body mechanics and ergonomics. Depending on your horse, you can do your stretches in a single tie, cross-ties, a ground tie, or with a holder.
- Don’t perform stretches on cold muscles as it can cause strains, tears and other issues and injuries. All stretches should be performed on warm muscles.
- Don’t cheat the stretch. If you want your horse to gain the maximum benefit of stretching, then you must perform proper stretching form.
- Most stretches can be performed up to 5 days a week as long as your horse is healthy. Tail pull stretches, on the other hand, should not be performed more than 4 days per week.
- Each horse has different stretching needs. The type of stretches and frequency that are appropriate for a horse recovering from an injury can greatly vary. Just because a certain stretch was effective on a different horse does not mean that it will also work similarly to your horse.
- The duration of the stretch will vary depending on many factors such nutrition level, conformation, prior injury and muscle tightness. You can start with a 5-10 second hold time and you can increase it gradually to 30 seconds.
- Never press on a joint to support a stretch or push or pull on joints.
- Another effective technique in maximizing the benefit of stretching is deep breathing and relaxing your hands as much as possible.
- If there is a noted pain or discomfort, never proceed to stretching.
- Not all stretches contained in Stretch Your Horse videos are applicable to all horses. Before you start your stretching regimen, consult with an equine healthcare professional first.
Horse stretching may just take a few minutes of your time, but clearly the benefits can go a long way. Before you get on your horse, make it a habit that you don’t just stretch your body; stretch your horse’s muscles too.
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