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How stretches can benefit your horse

Posted on Thursday, May 1, 2014 by Heather Dodd

by Debbie Honour, Dip ICAT, EMSM, ESM
Equine Musculo-Skeletal Manipulation Therapistneck flexor muscles stretch Debbie Honour
Passive and active stretches, when used regularly as part of a good maintenance routine can help improve the well-being and performance of your horse; (the therapist does the passive stretches on the horse and the horse does the active stretches himself directed by the therapist). The best time to carry out stretches is after exercise or a massage treatment when the muscular system is warm. Stretches should always be carried out with the horse’s structure and alignment in mind; the limb should never be pulled, especially if they resist, as this will just unbalance the horse and possibly damage muscles. Some benefits are:

• Relaxes the body and mind by sending relaxation impulses via sensory nerves to the central nervous system.
• Reduces muscle tension and stiffness
• Increases muscle reflex response time
• Increases the circulation to the muscles, supplying nutrition & assists removal of toxins
• Increases elasticity of muscles, tendons and ligaments, reducing risk of injury
• Increases joint and muscle flexibility and range of movement
• Improves co-ordination, stride length and awareness of the limbs
• Resets muscle length via collagen fibres in the tissue stretching & realigning in the same direction as the tension of the stretch
• Resets muscle memory via sensory nerve impulses to the central nervous system.

When I stopped this work on my own horse, Jack for a few weeks, and then started again I really noticed the difference. It’s surprising how much difference stretches can make to help keep a horse supple and balanced, and also when you do them yourself regularly they help indicate when there may be a problem, because you will notice resistance and stiffness, even pain where there wasn’t before.

Active stretches require the horse to carry out exercises and movements to stretch specific muscles themself. All the groups of muscles within the horse work together by means of the dorsal and ventral chain and stretches can target these groups; if one muscle is not able to work to its full ability, it will affect other muscles in the same and other groups causing atrophy and hypertrophy. There are a number of smaller deep muscles within the horse that when well developed provide the horse with good core stability.

A well-toned core along with well stretched and flexible muscles will benefit the horse with:

• Good balance, strength & co-ordination
• Good spinal posture
• Stability through the spine, hips and pelvis
• Flexibility & enhanced performance
• The ability to maintain self-carriage

The dorsal chain muscles are in charge of impulsion, jumping and leaping; in canter for example, to lift the forehand the muscle groups work from the hindquarters, stifle to pelvis, pelvis to trunk, trunk to withers and neck, thus lifting the forehand.

The ventral muscle chain supports and strengthens the back; the abdominal muscles support the ribs and viscera, this is where the power produces engagement of the hindquarters by contracting the abdominal muscles, hip flexors and quadriceps.

Foreleg lateral abductor muscles stretch Debbie Honour

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