Equine Body Work: 3 simple stretches to keep your horse loose, limber and happy
Sarah Orloff, an equine massage therapist, shows Biz Stamm some DIY techniques.
Sore muscles are an inevitable part of any athlete’s road to glory. Whether your horse is a future Olympian or trail horse extraordinaire, chances are he gets sore from time to time. Well never fret my friends! The other night Sarah Orloff of Topline Massage Therapy told me all about how we can keep our four-legged friends loose and limber. Sarah explained that horses experiencing discomfort and/or pain due to acute/chronic damage, strain or fatigue to the muscles, joints, bones and connective tissues, may show symptoms such as: high/tilting head, hollow backs, mystery lameness, imbalanced hooves, lack of self carriage, grumpy attitudes, colic, sticky or “off” movement, nervousness, premature breakdown, etc. She then went on to show me some simple techniques that can be used to keep our horses comfortable and happy in their work.
If you’d like to incorporate stretching into your horse’s daily routine, there are several stretches you can do on your own. Sarah and her lovely horse, Blue, were kind enough to demonstrate a few stretches that even us average Joes (Janes?) can handle.
The carrot stretch:
This is a stretch that many people may be familiar with, but according to Sarah, most of us could be getting more out of this stretch with a bit more attention to detail. Use a carrot or treat to encourage your horse to bend his head and neck around to the side of his body. The biggest mistake people make while performing the carrot stretch is that they allow their horse twist at the axis/atlas area, instead of releasing through the poll. Encouraging your horse to keep his head perpendicular to the ground will encourage more lateral flexion (remember “third eye to the sky“).
The thigh and haunch (rear abductor) stretch:
This is a great stretch to deal with those “sticky” hind ends. Pull your horse’s leg diagonally under his body and allow him to find his balance in three legs and relax into the position for several seconds. Once relaxed, encourage him to lift his toe and place his weight on the outside of his foot.
The pedestal stretch:
Feeling really ambitious? Well then head on down to your local hardware store and get some 4×4’s and thick plywood to make your horse a pedestal. If you’re not quite that ambitious, but would still like to try pedestal stretching with your horse, there are several places to buy them online. Once you’ve acquired a pedestal, have your horse stand with his front legs on the pedestal, and back legs on the ground. Your horse may not be too keen on doing this at first, but be patient. Learning stand on a pedestal can be a great confidence building exercise. Once your horse is comfortable standing on the pedestal, encourage him to drop his head and stretch his topline.
Hungry for more stretches? Well you’re in luck. Sarah is in the process of writing a book of stretches that will be released later this year.
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