I know the importance of stretching before a workout from personal experience–as many of you might too. After a couple of workout-related injuries (yep, it happens), I’m now sure to include stretching as a precursor to any kind of workout. Stretching increases flexibility, enhances athletic performance, and decreases the risk of injury. Stretching also increases blood flow to the muscles and it just feels darn good!
So if stretching has benefits for us, why wouldn’t it have benefits for our equine counterparts? I believe it does. When I barrel raced, I had a warm-up and stretching routine I did with my horse before every race. I was religious about it. I haven’t barrel raced in a few years, but I’ve noticed that my older horses like stretching too–they told me so in their own horsey way! I actually figured this out by accident as I was lifting my old mare, P.K.’s leg of one onto the hoof stand for trimming. She grunted and stretched out on her own saying, “That feels good, mom!”
Here are some stretches for horses–they can help your equine athlete or your old pasture buddy. Just be careful not to hurt your own back when doing them!
Triceps Muscle Stretch
- Facing your horse’s front legs, grasp a front leg and hold with both hands just above the knee.
- Slowly lift the knee up as you stand up straight as well. Bring horse’s knee up so foreleg is about parallel with the ground or to the point you feel some resistance.
- Let the leg down slightly and then hold for 5 seconds.
- Gently set leg down and repeat on other side.
Shoulder Extension Stretch
- Facing your horse’s front legs, grasp your horse’s leg above the knee with one hand and below the knee with the other hand.
- Slowly lift the horse’s leg until you feel some resistance. Slightly lower the leg and hold for 5 seconds.
- Gently place the leg back on the ground and repeat on other side.
Shoulder Flexion Stretch
- Standing behind your horse’s front leg, grasp the knee or just above the knee with one hand and the lower leg with the other hand.
- Slowly left leg, supporting it as you go, to about a 90 degree angle (or what’s comfortable for your horse.)
- Gently pull back on the leg until you feel some resistance. Decrease the tension and hold for 5 seconds.
- Place leg on ground and repeat on other side.
- Facing your horse’s back leg on one side, grasp the hock or just below the hock with your inside hand while grasping the fetlock or lower leg with the other hand.
- Gently lift the leg upward until you feel resistance. Decrease the tension slightly and hold for 5 seconds.
- Place the leg down gently and repeat on other side.
- Standing beside the horse, place your fingertips on the midline just behind the forelegs.
- Applying some pressure (but not too much), wriggle your fingers along the midline toward the navel area. (Your horse should arch his back slightly with this motion.)
- Repeat several more times.
Again, make sure that you can handle doing these stretches with your horse. You don’t want to hurt yourself in the process–modify stretches for you or the horse if needed. If your horse is recuperating from an injury, check with your vet before performing any kind of stretches as they may be contraindicated with certain conditions (i.e.–suspensory injury.)
You can find these stretches and more in Equine Acupressure: A Working Manual.
For more stretches you can do with your horse, see Neck Stretches for Horses.