Stretching your horse before and after a ride is something that we’re probably all guilty of not doing often enough. They need to stretch before and after exercise as much as we do, but it can feel hard to squeeze in when you’re running short on time (or for a multitude of other reasons!). Fortunately for us, our horses are forgiving, but stretching is that much more important for horses that are recovering from injuries, have joint problems, or other health conditions that make movement more difficult. Here are a few ways you can give your horse a good stretch:
On the Ground
-Leg stretching. Ask the horse to pick up its foot as if you’re going to pick it out. For the front legs, take the toe of the hoof in your hand and gently pull the horse’s leg forward until it is stretched out in front of them. For the back legs, ask the horse to pick up its foot and stretch it out behind them. Only go as far as is comfortable for them, and be sure to do this slowly. You don’t have to hold it for a long time (unless your horse really enjoys it). A few seconds will do.
-Neck stretching. This is essentially just asking your horse to flex from side to side on the ground. While standing at their shoulder, bring their nose around to your hip (or as far as is comfortable for them). Do this on both sides, and again you don’t need to hold this position for too long.
In the Saddle
-Neck stretching. This is the same thing as on the ground, just in the saddle! This is a good thing to do not only to stretch the horse’s neck, but to reinforce flexion and get your horse paying attention.
-Walking on a long rein. Allowing the horse to stretch their neck down and out will help stretch them all the way along their spine. It’ll also let them get any kinks out if they come out stiff. For ready-to-work horses I like to do two walking laps each direction (not including the walking during the actual session). For stiff, older, or recovering horses I tend to give them more time on a long rein at the walk.
-Circles. These are not only a good way to stretch, but help you get your horse paying attention to your aids. This can either be done on a long, loose rein or with two hands, but you shouldn’t be asking for collection or that much bend. The circles in this part of your ride are just for your horse to stretch out and wake up.
Stretching your horse is a good way to get a look at how their body is feeling that day. Pay attention to your horse’s reactions to each stretch; see what’s comfortable and what’s uncomfortable. At the end of the day, we won’t always have time to stretch out our horses (or ourselves) before and after rides. We do the best that we can with what we have, but as I said, we’re lucky that our horses are forgiving.