Everything Horse magazine February 2014 - Page 32

STRETCHING Stretching Exercises for Horses This months focus - for different ages and different levels of fitness Part 1 written by Barbara Dreyer “Never stretch cold body parts - this can cause injury” We all know that we have to warm up before and stretch after exercise to prevent injuries. This goes for horses as well. Have you ever seen your horse scratch on a certain post or tree in the field and wondered, ‘how is that even comfortable or possible’? Horses instinctively know how to stretch and they will not overstretch. Horses living out or who are being turned out regularly, will stretch their own muscles whenever needed. Horses who spend a long time in stables will not have the same opportunity to stretch. There are many benefits from stretching such as: MEET THE EXPERT Barbara Dreyer I am an Equine Massage Therapist, I run a mobile Equine Massage Therapy service in Cheshire and North West. I have worked with and around horses my entire life. I believe massage is a necessity - not a luxury! 32 • Relaxation • Reduction of muscle tension and stiffness • Increased circulation of both blood and lymph fluids • Increased elasticity of the muscles, tendons and • • • • • ligaments Increased flexibility and range of motion of the joints Improved coordination Reduction of muscle strain and ligament sprain Improvement of the stride length Promotes the maintenance of the older horse When to stretch? Always stretch when the horse is warm, remember stretching a cold horse can cause injury. Stretching should be done every day after every training or massage session. Ride your horse as normal, but before putting him away for the night finish off your routine with a few stretches, this can prevent future injuries. The dark and cold winter evenings are perfect for spending a bit of quality time with your horse. The winter weather doesn’t always permit riding so why not go for a long slow walk or lunge him instead and finish off with stretching. What NOT to do ... Never stretch cold body parts- this can cause injury! Never pull or stretch the part beyond its established range of motion- this can cause injury! Never bounce a stretch back- always return the stretched body part to its normal and recognised position. Never stretch an injured area. Never stretch a healing area! If your horse is recovering from surgery or has recently had any physical problems that affect the joint and muscles (a fall or kick) contact your veterinarian or Equine Massage Therapist before starting a stretching exercise program. Everything Horse UK Magazine • February 2014 • Issue 5 How to stretch Stretching is not a competition, it is not about how far you can go or how bendy your horse is on the first attempt. Stretching takes time. The aim of stretching is to relax the muscles and the ligaments tension so freer movement is obtained. Always stretch safely. Start off with the easy stretches and build it up to a regular, deeper stretch. Never go too far! This can cause the muscle to tear. Horses of all ages and fitness levels can stretch. I recently had great fun with a 3 year old mare who had never tried stretching before. She quickly saw it as a game and excelled in a very short time.. The old saying ‘practise makes perfect’, really is true. Your first few attempts might not go as a