…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.