Keeping your Horse Flexible with Active Carrot Stretches
Dynamic Stretching vs. Passive Stretching
Active stretches with the aid of a treat, so called 'carrot stretches', are nothing new and instructions can be found in many horse books and online. It's important, though, to do it right to get the most benefit. I'd like to show some basic carrot stretches here, which can help keep your horse flexible and supple.
These are 'active' or 'dynamic' stretches, meaning the horse needs to perform the stretch, vs. 'passive' stretches where the handler effects the stretch, usually by applying a pulling force to the respective limb.
Please note this important difference:
Active or dynamic stretches - like the ones shown below - can be performed any time with a cold horse.
Passive stretches, however, can cause damage to soft tissues if performed on a cold horse. Always perform passive stretches (if at all) after your horse is sufficiently warmed up. (E.g., after the warm-up phase of your workout.)
Stretch to the point of hip
How to: Slowly guide your horse to the point of hip, try to keep his head there for a few seconds before releasing the treat.
Muscles stretched: Shoulder and neck on the opposite side, intracostals (rib cage) on the opposite side.
Muscles strengthened: Shoulder and neck muscles, intracostals and abdominals on the near side.
Stretch to the side of the fore foot
How to: Let the horse follow the treat to the outside of the front hoof. Repeat on both sides.
Muscles stretched: Muscles in front and behind of the scapula, muscles used to move the shoulder on the opposite side.
Muscles strengthened: The same muscle group on the near side.
Stretch to the girthline
Note how the horse tucks his abdominal muscles and brings his back up. This motion - as long as it is a brief stretch, and not a so called 'Rollkur', is not only a good stretch for the neckline, but also for the entire nuchal ligament.
Here my horse is 'cheating' by lifting his left foot. In this case, just do it again on the other side as well.
Muscles stretched: Long back muscle, muscles of the lumbar area, feeding into the glutes and even hamstrings, nuchal ligament.
Muscles strengthened: Abdominals, chest.
Top image: Here the horse before the 'situp'. Look at the topline.
Image below: The situp is performed, the horse tucks his abdominal muscles and brings his back up.
How to: Use your thumbs to slowly stroke from the sacroiliac area down the glutes and along the 'poverty line'. Limit to 2 -3 times and 1 or 2 times per week, otherwise this reflex will numb.
Note: Some horses are more sensitive than others. Try what works for your horse. You may use two quarter coins to help you with this exercise, if your horse is slow to react.
Muscles stretched: Entire topline. Spinal bridge is 'opening', just like making a 'cat back'.
Musclesstrengthened: The entire abdominal sling and intercostals.
Please feel free to contact me with questions, suggestions or input of any kind.
*) Please note: Equine massage and bodywork is a non-invasive, gentle wellness modality aimed at enhancing performance in the healthy horse and never replaces proper veterinary care. If in doubt regarding the physical health of your horse please consult your veterinarian.