Stretching your horse is one of those things that can often get missed amid busy schedules and other tasks that need doing while you’re at the yard. Often called carrot stretches, they’re a form of exercise in themselves and are useful not only for working horses, but also for maintaining mobility and range of movement in horses recovering from injury, or even those who are retired.
Factoring in a little extra time at the end of your horse’s exercise each day, or during your grooming routine, can reap major rewards by developing suppleness and helping to target areas of stiffness. Just a few key stretches will promote whole-body flexibility and, once you get the hang of them, they don’t take very long to do, either.
Don’t necessarily expect your horse to have a full range of movement through every stretch. He’s likely to find some trickier than others, and one side easier than the other, too. Keep going and gently build up how far you ask him to stretch, as well as the number of repetitions.
Nose to knee stretch
Target areas: Neck and poll flexibility, stretch over his back.
How to: This stretch is the starting point, and something your horse should find easy. Begin by standing him up reasonably square. Position yourself on the side you’re asking him to stretch to.
Before you begin, make sure he knows you have a treat, then ask him to follow it down so his nose touches the outside of his knee. Encourage him to hold it for at least three seconds – don’t worry if he can’t at first, just keep encouraging him until he does – and allow him to have a bit of food as a reward. Repeat three to five times on each side.
Your horse will need a bit of encouragement and reward for each exercise. This might be succulents such as carrots and apples, or may be a handful of feed. Whatever the treat, it needs to be enough to motivate him to reach the point you’re asking him to stretch to.
Pick up a copy of July Horse&Rider, on sale 30 May, for more stretches you can do with your horse to help keep him supple.