Stretching – Part 3

This is the final installment of this series and involves mostly the neck, but also the shoulders, back and ribcage.    The key to this set of stretches is that the horse plants its feet fairly square, and that there be minimal head tilting.  The ultimate goal is for equal ease and depth of stretch to both sides.

In this first stretch I place my body between the horse’s shoulder and its head, causing the horse to bend its neck around me.  From this position I can better control head tilting, as well it adds depth to the stretch.  I use treats to encourage this whole set of stretches, though, it’s not necessary.

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The candidate horse has a neck on the shorter end of the equine scale, and yet as is evidenced in the pictures, there’s plenty of flexibility.  Short doesn’t instantly mean a lack of flexibility, and in fact if you do neck stretches on horses with various neck lengths, you’re likely to discover that the longer necks tend to be stiffer.  This is due to the ease at which a horse can evade through that additional length, creating uneven soft tissue.  The shorter neck allows for pure strength of bracing against a poor set of rider hands, but it’s less likely to ‘snake’ between poll and shoulder.   It’s an upcoming discussion for our conformation series.

This second stretch is a version of ‘long and low’.  You’re looking for some base of neck lift, as well an even bend through the entire length of the neck with minimal head tilt at the poll.  Be sure the horse keeps its throat open (for all the stretches!).

I’ll often play around with this stretch, sometimes making it higher, sometimes lower.  Start with a straight forward tradition ‘long and low’ stretch, and then go from there.   I’ll also often have the horse touch the front of its knee, or the outside of the knee, or its fetlock, or toe, or heel bulb etc…  Whenever I find resistance or an inability for an equal stretch, I’ll play around to try and unlock it.

Note the *crinkling* of the skin through the ribcage, while the side the stretch is to is compressed, the other side is being elongated.

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The next stretch is the hardest to execute without having the horse move its feet.  The natural tendency is for the horse to spin around because the stretch can be tough for an individual with any sort of tightness in the neck, shoulders or ribcage.  Take your time deepening this stretch to encourage the horse to stand still in squareness.  The other big cheat in this stretch is head tilting, so beware.  One way to encourage straightness is to start the stretch away from the body, then slowly ask the horse to ‘close’ the stretch by bringing the muzzle to the hip. The ultimate goal is that the horse can easily touch nose to point of hip.

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You may have noticed that this horse has taken on a rather wide stance front and back.  Part of that is the fact he’s a wide-bodied horse, but the other part is that he’s done these stretches hundreds of times and knows that a wider stance gives him more stability and balance to do the depth of stretching.  Try to set your horse on the right path by encouraging a good strong stance of balance before starting.

The final stretch is the prelude to a full-fledged bow.   Start with a ‘long and low’ stretch and then slowly bring it in.  Head tilting or stretching off to the side that the person is standing on are common errors.  Sometimes switching to standing on the off side of the horse will correct the tendency to stretch crooked.

How deep you go is entirely up to you and your horse.  You can see this horse has reached the point where he’s had to bend his knee and lift his heel off the ground to go deeper.  Obviously, if you’re going to take the horse down to a full bow, do so on a soft surface of grass, sand or deep bedding.

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And that concludes basic horse stretching.

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17 thoughts on “Stretching – Part 3

  1. This may be a really stupid question, but I have never claimed to be the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree. Is it harmful to stretch a horse so he can touch his sheath? After I do the point of hip stretch I then stretch him to touch his sheath.

  2. Not sure how you post photos to here… or even if you can. But I’ve a horse that regularly lifts his hind leg up to scratch his ear and he turns right round to nibble and groom his own bum too! More like a dog would.

    I don’t do stretches with horses as a warm up but I have used a lot of the techniques described here as physiotherapy and specifically when bringing a horse into work with a progressive programme of activity.

    Good explanations and photo examples here.

  3. I could file this whole series under “Things I Had No Idea You Could Get a Horse to Do.” Before I saw the pictures, I would have guessed that the horse would just call the human a brick-brained interfering know-it-all in horse-ese and take off across the pasture. But my admittedly limited knowledge of horses leads me to read the eye of the horse in the top picture as saying, “Urghh–*crick crick*–oh, that feels good.” And the photos of the topline in the first article are astounding.

    • If you also notice, once the topline was lifted for the horse, which was actually the very first exercise done in the series of stretches that day (though, I did not put it first in the article) the horse’s topline remained ‘up’ throughout.

      • I have started doing some of these stretches with my lil guy, but I would also like to teach him to bow and was wondering how you expand on that last stretch to teach a full bow.

        • Normally the bow requires you to add some cues, typically with a whip. Touching the leg with the whip that you want the horse to lift and bow down onto.

          Some people use rope to ‘hold up the leg’ while encouraging the horse down onto the knee.

          Googling with net you a number of videos and explanations of various ways.

  4. Thank you for the stretch series – a few of those were new to me, now added. The nice clear photos are quite helpful.

    I was also inspired by your comments on the belly lifts to try an experiment. The horse below, if my third attempt at a posting method works, or at the links if not, is a charity case where mine live. 19 year old Arabian mare, hasn’t been ridden or worked in at least 10 years. Owner issue; not due to injury. These are convenience snapshots from the start day, but that is typical posture for her. Curious to see what effect, if any, daily belly lifts/butt scrunches may have, with no work whatsoever. We’re 2 weeks in as of yesterday. It was a week and a half before there was any detectable lifting response to the belly lift. She reacts much more strongly to the butt scrunch. I’ll take a new photo monthly and report back.

    Day 1 – Nov 24, 2013

    (One confounding factor – they’d been in at night all summer due to too much grass, and *finally* got back to 24/7 out, other than the occasional night in for particularly absurd weather, right after experiment started.)

    • She’s going to have some micro tears in her back, which will make it harder for her to hold up her back. And with the abs so weak like that, for so long, it’s not surprising it’s taken some time to get a noticeable ‘lift’. Those abs will have to be stronger than normal to make up for the ligament tears in the back.

      Looking forward to seeing updated photos.

        • Basically they’re small tears or ruptures caused after the likes of after excessive work or stretching of muscle filaments

        • Since the horse’s back is poorly designed to carry weight, the ligament system and surrounding muscle that runs the length of it is highly susceptible to strain, sprain and tearing.

          Candidates are those with certain conformation faults such as long back, long loin, withers that don’t carry back well, and any individual naturally prone to hollowness via such things as low set or ewe-necks, post-leggedness, over angulation, poorly placed LS joint, poor hip length and overly downhill build. Start combining a few of those traits together and the risk rises exponentially.

          Other candidates for tearing are those horses that are ridden too young, by unbalanced individuals, by dead weight individuals, or by overly heavy individuals.

          Horses that are trained poorly/incorrectly, forced into false frames are at higher risk. Of course poorly fitting saddles can also create a situation of hollowness. Even sore feet that cause a horse to hollow and brace through the back can contribute.

          Obviously, the aging process can play a roll as soft tissue loses its integrity, and also a mare who’s had several foals (or suffered an injury during pregnancy) can also become more susceptible.

          Besides some age, (perhaps also some foals?) the mare in question has injuries to the sacrum, loin and latter half of the thorax that have very likely contributed to the current condition of her back.

          • Very interesting! I can see the odd “rolling hills” nature of the top line and the droopy abs, but not that kind of detail. If anyone’s curious, here’s what I know, relevant to the above –

            “Hollow” is her typical approach to movement. I don’t believe she’d had any foals; I hope not. Her long term owners wouldn’t have ridden her hard. The primary rider would have been lightweight, but might not have been very experienced or balanced. As wide as the mare is, it wouldn’t be surprising if there had been poor saddle fit. I don’t know anything about her original training or her life prior to the long term owners.

            I don’t know of any specific accidents, though Michigan presents plenty of slip opportunities each winter in addition to normal horse activity/risks. There was one episode of laminitis on all four. Farrier care’s been variable. She’s excitable and not very sensible, not much self preservation. She’ll body slam her stall door, hard.

            Rummaging for older pics for comparison yielded a good March 2013 and a few I could crop from group shots. Might be able to get older snapshots at least back to 2004 (age 10) eventually.

            March 2013: http://oi44.tinypic.com/qqpzdw.jpg

            August 2011 – http://oi42.tinypic.com/2rqhqv5.jpg (horse behind was 31 and very swaybacked)

            Jan 2009, herd was playing in the snow. The static one is a bit blurry when cropped but I grabbed it for its parallel to the new ones
            standing: http://oi39.tinypic.com/2q8d02h.jpg
            typical posture in motion: http://oi43.tinypic.com/34zdd1c.jpg
            best moving posture I have for her: http://oi40.tinypic.com/rsvioj.jpg

            (has anyone figured out how to include images in comments yet? The above failed trials were the “share” code from flickr and from tiny pic and also just straight html. The “share” code from youtube does work.)

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