Many riders make the mistake of treating their horse like a machine – hopping on and off without a second thought. It is this very mistake that often leads to  protest.

Our horses are living, breathing biomechanical species. When a horse is placed under the same strains as a sportsman, it needs to be treated and cared for as such.

The 5 Rules to Stretching a Horse Effectively - So many of us stretch our horses, stretches learnt on our journey but do we really know the basics behind stretching. The fundamentals that ensure an effective stretch and the essentials that ensure you do not hurt your horse or yourself. The 5 rules to stretching a horse effectively, analyses some of these.

Sportsman vs Sportshorse

Sportsmen across various sports disciplines look after their bodies through strengthening as well as flexibility whether recovering from injury or through basic maintenance. Stretching muscle tissue is essential for muscle recovery, muscle growth, alignment, and prevention of injury.

In video 2 of our series of the Body, Mind and Soul approach towards connectedness with your horse aimed at the accomplishment of the ultimate ride, I showed you a few suppling techniques. In this video we look at the finer details with regards to stretching your horse, the details that rarely get mentioned. So, let’s get started.

Rule 1: Never Stretch a Cold Horse

The 5 Rules to Stretching a Horse Effectively - So many of us stretch our horses, stretches learnt on our journey but do we really know the basics behind stretching. The fundamentals that ensure an effective stretch and the essentials that ensure you do not hurt your horse or yourself. The 5 rules to stretching a horse effectively, analyses some of these.

First is a rule that you already know but deserves repeating. Never stretch a cold horse. Don’t take a horse from its stable and stretch. Always start with a short walk and get the blood pumping in the muscles before attempting to stretch so that you avoid creating injury and so that you increase your efficiency. If your horse has been frolicking in the paddock all day prior to stretching, no warmup is required.

Rule 2: Set your Space

Secondly, plan your space before you begin with any of these techniques. Make sure you and your horse have the freedom to move. Your horse needs to have enough space to move away from you if you attempt movement that he doesn’t like as this gives you a clear indication of what the stress points are in his body. And you need to give yourself space to get away from your horse if he acts up and you find yourself in a compromised position.

Rule 3: Permission and Awareness

The 5 Rules to Stretching a Horse Effectively - So many of us stretch our horses, stretches learnt on our journey but do we really know the basics behind stretching. The fundamentals that ensure an effective stretch and the essentials that ensure you do not hurt your horse or yourself. The 5 rules to stretching a horse effectively, analyses some of these.

Next, whenever working with your horse, always ask permission before attempting anything. I believe they understand it all and, in my experience, if I show them what I intend to do through visualisation, I will have a much easier horse to work with. Wait for a softening of the eye or body language as a sign of approval. Just by touching the area you are targeting; you bring attention to that area and create an awareness of that area not only a mental awareness but also stimulation of the neurological system. That’s triple the benefit.

Rule 4: Foot Placement

Fourth, it is very important to pay close attention to your feet while executing stretches. Unstable foot placement will inevitably lead to an ineffective stretch and leaves your horse feeling insecure and unsupported mid-stretch.

It is essential for your stability to have a wide base in your stance. Avoid having your feet placed side by side. Further increase your base by moving one foot forward and one foot back along with the width of your placement.

Ensuring that you have the right stance will decrease your chances of hurting your own body while stretching your horse’s.

The 5 Rules to Stretching a Horse Effectively - So many of us stretch our horses, stretches learnt on our journey but do we really know the basics behind stretching. The fundamentals that ensure an effective stretch and the essentials that ensure you do not hurt your horse or yourself. The 5 rules to stretching a horse effectively, analyses some of these.

In my 10  do’s and don’t’s of stretching free download, I explain the ins and outs of being balanced in your base of support, the parts of you that make contact with the floor. For more detail be sure to download this on my website at authenticawakening.co.za/equine

The 5 Rules to Stretching a Horse Effectively - So many of us stretch our horses, stretches learnt on our journey but do we really know the basics behind stretching. The fundamentals that ensure an effective stretch and the essentials that ensure you do not hurt your horse or yourself. The 5 rules to stretching a horse effectively, analyses some of these.

Download the 10 Do's & Don't's of Equine Stretching for Free

For the detailed intructions to the Do’s and Don’t’s of stretching your horse effectively and keeping safe, download this pdf tutorial.

Rule 5: Deep Rhythmic Breathing

The 5 Rules to Stretching a Horse Effectively - So many of us stretch our horses, stretches learnt on our journey but do we really know the basics behind stretching. The fundamentals that ensure an effective stretch and the essentials that ensure you do not hurt your horse or yourself. The 5 rules to stretching a horse effectively, analyses some of these.

Deep, rhythmic breathing increases your aerobic endurance and communicates relaxation regularity. The correct breathing leads to the optimal energy flow and optimal circulation.

Try to keep your breathing constant. Each breath should run into your pelvis, your hip should soften and widen, and your horse should be able to feel every move you are thinking about even before you have started to execute it.

Listen to your horse’s breathing, try to match his breath with yours. If your horse can feel your breath, he knows your intention. Applying force is usually associated with holding the breath so holding your breath will make him think something forceful about to happen. When he feels that your breathing is relaxed, he knows he has nothing to fear.

Holding your breath may also cause you to tire quickly, creating tension and restriction of freedom in both of you.

Constricted breathing will also lead to tension and stiffness in you both leading to a less effective stretch and increasing the chances of injury for you both.

The 5 Rules to Stretching a Horse Effectively - So many of us stretch our horses, stretches learnt on our journey but do we really know the basics behind stretching. The fundamentals that ensure an effective stretch and the essentials that ensure you do not hurt your horse or yourself. The 5 rules to stretching a horse effectively, analyses some of these.

See above how the model is holding her breath causing tension in her shoulders. First of all, due to the tension in her shoulders, she will not be able to feel what the horse is experiencing not to mention the fact that she will tire quickly and undoubtedly be sore after executing the horse’s stretches. More importantly, the horse will not be able to relax completely because of the tension that she is holding.

The 5 Rules to Stretching a Horse Effectively - So many of us stretch our horses, stretches learnt on our journey but do we really know the basics behind stretching. The fundamentals that ensure an effective stretch and the essentials that ensure you do not hurt your horse or yourself. The 5 rules to stretching a horse effectively, analyses some of these.

In our second example above, our model has relaxed her shoulders with the correct breathing. The horse knows what she wants, what her intentions are, and she is executing a better stretch with less physical side effects on her own body.

My rule of thumb whenever you’re interacting with horses, breathe!

Example 1 – the Triceps Stretch

The 5 Rules to Stretching a Horse Effectively - So many of us stretch our horses, stretches learnt on our journey but do we really know the basics behind stretching. The fundamentals that ensure an effective stretch and the essentials that ensure you do not hurt your horse or yourself. The 5 rules to stretching a horse effectively, analyses some of these.

In this example of a triceps stretch, the model shows you the wrong way in the first image. There is no contact or control in this stretch and her fingers are in danger. In my opinion stretching the triceps in this manner, also places undue tension on the tendons of the foreleg. Note this stretch obviously starts with the leg held higher first and this is therefore the end of the stretch.

In the second image the model shows you the right way. Notice how widespread her feet are with bent knees for stamina and protection of her own body. Her shoulders are relaxed, and she has complete control. They are breathing the whole way through and she is actually achieving the goal of the exercise which is to stretch the triceps muscle.

A well executed stretch as she is safe and the horse feels secure.

Example  – the Hamstring Stretch

1. Bring Awareness to Your Area of Focus

This is an example of a hamstring stretch from beginning to end with a twist. First, I bring awareness to the area that will be stretched.

The 5 Rules to Stretching a Horse Effectively - So many of us stretch our horses, stretches learnt on our journey but do we really know the basics behind stretching. The fundamentals that ensure an effective stretch and the essentials that ensure you do not hurt your horse or yourself. The 5 rules to stretching a horse effectively, analyses some of these.

2. If your horse is Uncertain – Prepare him for the Stretch

If your horse is hesitant to go into the stretch, show him he is okay and just apply some small circles in the beginning of his stretching position. You will see this clearly in my YouTube video attached. Note in the image below that my feet would be better placed if one was in front of the other in the same width apart. 

Here your horse will generally relax into the technique and give you some nice releases. Give him time to process before attempting his stretch again.

The 5 Rules to Stretching a Horse Effectively - So many of us stretch our horses, stretches learnt on our journey but do we really know the basics behind stretching. The fundamentals that ensure an effective stretch and the essentials that ensure you do not hurt your horse or yourself. The 5 rules to stretching a horse effectively, analyses some of these.

3. Feel where your stretch feels right and Apply

Now that he knows what’s coming, attempt the stretch again. This time my feet are better positioned. My shoulders are relaxed and the two of us are breathing through an effective stretch. Lift into the stretch as what is comfortable for him. If he resists, it is too much. You are still stretching effectively if his leg is held lower. Play with the range of the leg and feel what works. Always place his leg down gently and allow him time to be before moving into your next stretch or activity. That way you allow the brain and the body time to process what it has just experienced. Your result is threefold. Never rush stretching. 

The 5 Rules to Stretching a Horse Effectively - So many of us stretch our horses, stretches learnt on our journey but do we really know the basics behind stretching. The fundamentals that ensure an effective stretch and the essentials that ensure you do not hurt your horse or yourself. The 5 rules to stretching a horse effectively, analyses some of these.

TOP TIP – Your Grip when Stretching 

Your grip should always be relaxed. Monitor this by looking at the blood flow in your fingers, under your nails. If your nails are white, you are gripping too tightly, and the blood flow is limited to your nail bed. If your nails and fingers are nice and red, they are filled with blood and your hands are relaxed.

The 5 Rules to Stretching a Horse Effectively - So many of us stretch our horses, stretches learnt on our journey but do we really know the basics behind stretching. The fundamentals that ensure an effective stretch and the essentials that ensure you do not hurt your horse or yourself. The 5 rules to stretching a horse effectively, analyses some of these.

Last bit of Advice

The 5 Rules to Stretching a Horse Effectively - So many of us stretch our horses, stretches learnt on our journey but do we really know the basics behind stretching. The fundamentals that ensure an effective stretch and the essentials that ensure you do not hurt your horse or yourself. The 5 rules to stretching a horse effectively, analyses some of these.

Static stretching can inhibit performance and if at a show it is advisable to warm up with movement and stretch after performance only. For more information on how much and how often to stretch, download my free tutorial on stretching here.

Download the 10 Do's & Don't's of Equine Stretching for Free

For the detailed intructions to the Do’s and Don’t’s of stretching your horse effectively and keeping safe, download this pdf tutorial.

Watch my YouTube video below to see this blog in detail. Be sure to subscribe for further regular insight.

Rider Suppling Downloadable PDF

For a full stretching program aimed at the rider please purchase the Rider’s Supplying Program.

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