…continuing on with the front end…
A reminder: It’s best if someone can show you the stretches the first time, or oversee and make corrections. Do not pull the horse’s limbs, instead, guide. You do not bounce the stretches or hold them. Keep limbs properly aligned, twisting and crooked stretching is frowned upon and more importantly can hurt the horse. Make note of differences between limbs or any stretches that seem unusually difficult for the horse to perform – that means there’s an issue.
Cup the back of your horse’s knee and lift it straight up. Make sure the forearm stays in alignment and that you don’t pull the leg crooked. This will drop the scapula down and back, open the point of shoulder joint and stretch the back of the elbow. Be sure to gently place the leg back down – don’t ‘drop’ it.
Horses with short and/or horizontal humerus bones, or those horses with closed shoulder angles will not be able to lift their knees as high as horses with long and/or vertical humerus bones, or those horses with open shoulder angles.
Front Leg Stretch
With your outside hand, grip the toe of your horse’s hoof. Place your inside hand on the horse’s knee. Gradually straighten the leg. Again, make sure you aren’t pulling the leg to the side, it should extend straight forward and all the bones be in alignment. The inside hand does NOT push down on the knee, it is merely there to prevent the horse from bobbing the person in the face with it should the horse pull away or attempt to paw.
Horses that are very front leg oriented; those that like to paw, strike or climb will often finish this stretch on their own, so be careful and stand off to the side slightly so you don’t get nailed.
Again, gently place the foot back on the ground, don’t ‘drop’ the foot, that’s a good way to give a horse a stinger and can even cause a fracture, if like with this horse, you are stretching on a hard surface.
Typically, I will move directly from the shoulder lift into this stretch, reaching down with one hand to grip the toe, while slipping my other hand on top of the knee. In fact, once I start the front leg stretches I don’t put the foot down until I’ve completed them all, making the stretches a seamless exercise. This isn’t, however, a requirement and some horses struggle with balancing on three legs for that length of time. It’s something you can work up to, but don’t expect it the first time around.
For this stretch place you outside hand just above the horse’s knee and grab the front of the horse’s pastern with your other hand. Lift the foot up and then very gently ‘guide’ the knee back, stretching the front of the leg. Keeping the foot low to the ground will make it an easier stretch.
Like with the hind leg, if you once get to a certain amount of stretch, the horse will often finish the stretch for you and fully extend the leg.
Another variation giving a deeper stretch is to hold the lower leg parallel to the ground.
This stretch is simply folding the horse’s front leg up tight so that the bottom of the hoof touches the horse’s elbow. Horses with arthritic knees will have a hard time with this one. Also, if the horse is experiencing inflammation in any of the joints of the front leg, they’ll also find this hard to do.
Circles And Lateral Humerus And Scapula Stretch
Circles: Grip the pastern with both hands and hold the leg directly under the horse so it remains straight. Allow the horse’s foot to hang freely. Start by drawing small circles with the toe of the foot in a clockwise direction. Then reverse and draw circles in a counter-clockwise direction. Repeat by drawing a larger circle.
Lateral: I unfortunately don’t have a picture of this stretch. Hold the cannon bone parallel to the ground (create a 90 degree angle at the knee). Place the horse’s knee (bent one) slight behind his other knee (knee of leg horse is standing on) and then use the outside of your knee to gently press the knee (bent one) toward the other knee – as if the horse was taking a lateral step. Release, and then move the knee (bent one) directly in line with the other knee. Press again and release. Finally, move the knee (bent one) slightly in front of the other knee and press then release.
The final part of this series will cover some neck and body stretches.
Does the extensor stretch work if the horse isn’t grazing during the stretch?
Good question! Whether grazing or not grazing the extensor gets stretched. LOL!
On a more serious note, I find that most horses will put their heads down, at least a bit, when doing this stretch. It’s a nasty little stretch and putting the head down takes a bit of the depth off. As well, when a leg stretches back like that – what are horses usually doing? – grazing. So, I think there’s a bit of an association that happens automatically.
When I stretch my geldings front legs sometimes he almost stomps down on my toes! He really gets in to the front leg stretch and will go all the way to the ground if your not carful. The back legs too, sometimes he will take his foot away and really stretch it out behind him. Usually accompanied by a good grunt. I can’t wait to try these other exorcises. Thank you for posting these. This is really useful and practical information. I think horses definitely ride better if you take the time to stretch them out. Gets them in a good mind set.
On a similar note. Doe’s anyone else stretch there horses front legs after they cinch up the saddle? Maybe not a full stretch. I hade an instructor tell me to do that once because it would keep the skin beneath the cinch from pinching. I don’t know if that is really true but it has been habitual for me ever since then.
That’s a wonderful sign (and great interaction) that he actively stretches if you start him off.
Yes, stretching the front leg after girthing can relieve any pinched skin.
You can also simply do the girth up lightly, then hand walk the horse for a bit, do the girth up a notch, hand walk a bit more, then do final girth tightening. This is my preferred method as part of warm up and assessing the horse prior to work, but also it will correct saddle placement if I’ve gotten it a bit too far forward (a common error for many people) – provided of course that the saddle fits the horse correctly in the first place.
So another questions. Does anyone else’s horse arch up there back and neck and stretch like a cat? That’s what it looks like to me when he does it. I see him do it from time to time on his own. Kind of looks weird but he seems to like it. He is the only one out of our group of 6 and the only horse I have ever seen do it.
Oh, yes, horses will stretch like that.
Yup, I had one that stretched like that (accompanied by proper yoga breathing techniques!) every time I dragged him out of his stall to groom him… 😉
He would also stretch each of his hind legs out straight behind him after I had finished picking them out.
When I stretch the front legs on my horse he will then do the….I don’t know what to call it…..dog stretch thingy. If I’m stretching out the front left, he will rock back to start stretching the right front at the same time. So I gently put down the left front and he rocks all the way back and his girth area almost touches the ground as his front is fully stretched out in front.
When I stretch the back legs out behind him he now finishes the stretch himself.
What a good boy!
Yes I stretch after girthing…..I had a man ask me why I did that. I replied, ‘wear a bra and find out’….I need to stretch out after putting a bra on…..just saying…..lol
LOL! True dat!
Wow. Why didn’t I think of that.
I like the comparison. lol. I stretch after girthing only sometimes. Perhaps I should be doing it more often (but I also walk the horse before doing up the final few holes).
I’ve always stretched my mares front legs before getting on, after the final girth check. Within the last few months, I’ve also been encouraging her to stretch out her back legs. After I’ve picked a hoof, I stretch the back leg slightly and she finishes it by stretching like a cat – taking the leg and sticking it out behind her with a sigh. Gets some good chuckles from others. I also tried the back stretches with her the other day after reading about them and I could definitely see that back lift. I love it.
That’s awesome to hear!
The Paint Mare got her wonky haunches fixed, but now has stiffness in her right shoulder, probably from limping on an abscess for ten days (it hasn’t been the best autumn for us 🙂 ). I tried a couple of these yesterday, knee bend and front leg stretch, and she was very resistant on the right, started to hollow out and collapse. I also gave her some firm massage on the girth area (pectorals?), across the muscles, which provokes a lot of snapping and snarling, and then relaxing and chewing if I continue, so something is happening there. I tried the stretches again after riding, and she was not reactive at all, so something’s going on that gets worked out. She is pretty much refusing to trot right in the ring for the past couple of days, though willing to go left. Lots of attitude, threatening to buck, biting the toe of my right boot, etc. (she is however fine on the lunge both directions and in canter/buck turnout) I’ve been going on for a few years thinking she is a healthy sturdy horse with some unpredictable mood swings, but now starting to think I’ve had it backwards: she’s basically a happy horse with a lot of little aches and pains I’ve been missing. Starting to rethink many things here . . .
This is the point where you start wishing they’d just speak English for you. Some horses are introverts and others are extroverts – she’s the latter and that works to your advantage. The good news is that she works out of it and it appears to be soft tissue related rather than bone/joint related. Keep digging.