Why stretch before you ride?
We’ve teamed up with Jessica Blackwell of Equestricare Equine Sports Therapy to explore the importance of properly warming up your horse’s muscles before riding. Jessica has multiple qualifications in the Equine therapy field (Sports Massage, Bodywork, Myofascial Release, Red Light Therapy, Tissue Mobilisation, Taping and Reiki) and has also done extensive study in Biomechanics, anatomy and exercise physiology. She has been a full time professional equine therapy practitioner since 2005 utilising not only her hands on techniques but also a range of other tools including ultrasound, PEMF, infrasound, photonic therapy, microcurrent therapy, taping and more. Jessica has been using the Activo-Med range of therapy products for several years and incorporates them into her therapy treatments every day!
You’ve probably all heard the sayings “you must only stretch your horse when it’s warmed up” and “cold chewing gum doesn’t stretch” etc but that doesn’t mean that it’s not important to stretch your horse pre ride.
Just like us, horses get stiff and sore when they hang around in the stable or paddock doing very little, and sometimes it’s really nice to be able to give them a little stretch before we get on and ask them to carry us and perform!
When a muscle is underused or overused the muscle fibres (which are bundles of myofibrils) respond by shrinking or tightening which can cause stiffness, discomfort and negatively impact the horses ability to perform. To remain supple the connective tissues and muscle fibres need regular stretching. Stretching helps prevent this shortening and tightening of fibres.
But yes it is important that you make sure the horse has circulation going through it’s body before you stretch. My personal preferences are to use my Activo-Med Rug in the pre training mode followed by stretches and then grooming. If you aren’t lucky enough to own one or similar (or a vibration plate) then a quick massage or really good groom can be enough. Or even a 10min walk from paddock to tie ups is enough to get the joints moving and the muscles prepared.
There are loads of stretches that I love pre workout, but here are three stretches that better prepare the horses bodies for carrying a rider then any others.
The Belly Lift
The purpose of this stretch is to engage the horses core abdominal muscles and stretch their back out. You need an engaged core to have a functioning back so this is one of my particular favourites (except when you try and do it on chestnut mares). This is also the stretch most likely to get you bitten or kicked so start gently and increase as the horse lets you. Here are the steps to avoid getting injured:
- Stand on the left hand side of the horse (as that is what they are usually more comfortable with). Start with your left hand at the sternum between the front legs of the horse and your right hand just in front of the belly button.
- Tickle or scratch the horse along the midline where your hands are situated. It is not about pushing the horses tummy up but about getting them to lift their own in response to your fingers.
- Slowly whilst keeping up the fingertip scratching move your hands towards each other.
- When the horse does start to engage their abs and lift, try and hold them there for 1-3minutes
Neck Flexion to Fetlock
Yes this is a “carrot stretch”… But I recommend using something that will get the saliva going before they have a bit in their mouth. Maybe liquorice or molasses treats etc.
I already do carrot stretches with my horse I hear you say, but this one is slightly different. With this stretch we are aiming for the horse to stretch their neck down and around to the outside of their fetlock. This is a hard stretch for them to cheat in (like your typical carrot stretches) and will force them to engage their core muscles in order to reach the treat without falling over. Plus it will get you a good neck stretch in the process.
- Stand on the outside of the horses leg and let the horse sniff the treat (without sealing it)
- Slowly bring the treat down to the outside of the horses fetlock encouraging the horse to follow you. Crouch down if you need to.
- Hold the treat there for as long as you can without the horse taking it. The longer they can hold the position the better, so if you need a handful of bite sized treats to keep them there I’d do that!
Hind End Tuck
This is one of the trickier stretches I teach and it may take you a while to get it (if you ever get it…) but my hints are if you think you are using enough pressure you aren’t, scratching will get you a better reflex then poking, and increase your pressure as you move your hands rather then decrease it.
Please note that if you don’t feel comfortable doing this stretch then don’t do it… it’s actually very hard to get kicked when asking the horse to flex their pelvis but there will always be one that proves me wrong!
- Stand behind the horse and draw an imaginary line from their tuber coxae (point of hip) up to their tuber sacrale (point of rump). Smack bang in the middle is a reflex point. Tickle or scratch in this area and watch them lift up their lumbar region.
- Once you’ve got the reflex slowly work your fingers down the curve of their gluteals and over the poverty line towards their ischiatic tuberosity (point of buttock)
- Just before you get to the point of buttock maintain the stretch by rubbing the area and holding them in place.