As equestrians, we know that our horses aren’t just pets; they’re also athletes. We also tend to take better care of our horse’s health than our own! My horse, Reef, gets the royal treatment when it comes to his health and fitness, which means that yes, he has a massage therapist.
Since Reef is just coming off of an injury and we have a show soon, I decided it would be a good idea to get him a massage. Jackie Jolie, his wonderful massage therapist, came out and was gracious enough to show me four stretches for horse owners that are simple and beneficial for your horse before a work out:
1. The Belly Lift
Purpose: to engage the core, lift the back, and collect the rear. It is basically like “warming up” the abs when you go to the gym. Without a functioning core, you and your horse will end up with back pain.
Step 1: With one hand, locate the middle of the sternum and then move that hand one fist length back from the sternum (towards tail) With your other hand, find the belly button of your horse and then move that hand one fist length forward toward front of horse.
Step 2: Get your body into a squat-like position with a good bend in your knees and a 90 degree angle at your elbows.
Step 3: Just start pressing upwards with your fingers from the position you have placed your hands. If you look at your horses back, you want to see the back rise up and feel the abdomen activate.
2. Side Neck Flexion
Purpose: to stretch and activate the neck muscles and to help release the poll and front of shoulder.
Step 1: Stand with your back to your horses shoulder.
Step 2: Use a carrot or treat in the beginning to get your horse used to stretching across you towards their hindquarters.
Step 3: Use the treat/carrot in your hand furthest away from your horse’s head and ask your horse to stretch his/her head any amount that they are comfortable with towards their rear end.
3. Front Limb Flexion
Purpose: to flex the front leg extensors and extend the front leg flexors. It opens the chest and shoulders up to the poll as well.
Step 1: Ask your horse for his/her front leg as if you are going to clean out their hooves.
Step 2: Place hands at knee and ankle joint – ONLY for support and guidance, NOT force.
Step 3: Ask and help your horse bring their leg straight back underneath them and allow their hoof to come down onto the ground. Some horses that are tight will not be able to place their hoof completely on the ground so go with the best they can, it will improve with practice!
4. Rear Limb “Curtsy”
Purpose: to open the hip joints and release the glutes.
Step 1: Ask the horse for their opposite rear limb from the side you are standing (i.e.: if you are standing near the left rear, you will be asking for the right rear leg). This can be awkward in the beginning for both you and your horse but with more practice, they really love and hold this stretch for lengths of time.
Step 2: Place hands around the ankle joint – ONLY for support and guidance, NOT force.
Step 3: Ask and help the limb come in front of and across the other rear limb (hock over hock if possible) and place the hoof completely down on ground on other side of other rear limb.
Again, some horses with really tight hips may not be able to come completely across their other hock and place their hoof completely to ground, but keep trying and you will see improvement! (Emphasis on the fact that you are only guiding your horse into this stretch, not forcing them into it.)
Another note from Jackie: Belly lift and neck stretches can be done before work to help activate specific muscles to allow the horse’s body to know it is about to work and ease into warming up in riding.
Front limb stretched, back limb stretches, and the neck flexion can be done after work. Reason being that the muscles, ligaments, and tendons have been warmed up and will be able to stretch better as well as decrease chances of tear or injury.
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