It’s hard to imagine 28-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps diving into the pool without a proper stretch and warm-up routine (plus we’ve all seen this photo), so why should we think any differently about our own prize-winning athletes? When it comes to stretching our horses, the aim is to create length in the muscles and tendons, thereby protecting them, explains international show jumper, trainer, and osteopath, Jelle Hoorens.
“Stretching before training helps to prevent injuries, and is part of warming-up. By stretching the muscles, blood starts flowing through the dilatated arteries, which then ensures that the muscles get plenty of oxygen and blood-flow,” Hoorens says. “It’s not only effective to stretch your horse before a workout, but also after training, using something like carrot stretches, which can prevent lactic acid from building up in the muscles and causing injuries.”
When it comes to stretching safely, however, there are a few good rules to always follow with your horse. Rule number one: don’t get kicked—and don’t put yourself in a situation where you could be, says Hoorens, who recommends getting to know your horse while trying to get a sense for his stretching limits.
“Never push your horse past those limits if you feel that a stretch is really hard. Sometimes, horses can be stiff at the very beginning, and when that’s the case, they just need to adapt to the movements,” Hoorens explains. “Try to make the movement a few times to improve the suppleness. Hold every stretch for 5 seconds, and then repeat once or twice.”
In the slide show, Hoorens demonstrates 10 of the best movements to stretch your horse from nose to tail.
2. A carrot stretch with your horse turned sideways toward his knee (repeat on both sides)
3. A carrot stretch with your horse’s head lifted up.
4. A carrot stretch with your horse’s head lowered down.