Why do I need to stretch or strengthen my horse and/or myself?

Our body functions as a whole. Stretching, co-ordination and endurance are things we do every day whether we realise it or not, and these things all form an integral part of our whole.

For us to achieve our maximum athletic ability and pain-free, limitation-free life it is essential to look at all these elements.  A very large part of my goal is the prevention of injury and enhancing athletic ability. That goes for you as well as your horse. 

For our horses to achieve the perfect stride length, perfect jump height or even a greater speed at racing it’s essential for the body to be in the correct alignment.

Horsemen pay a lot of attention to tendons and avoiding tendon injury but often the most important factor is not accentuated enough. Tendons are not separate entities.  Ninety percent of elasticity in our muscle groups come from the muscle fibres and only ten percent actually comes from the tendon.

Tight muscles are shortened muscles. Their fibres are held in a greater state of contraction…thus they don’t release as quick or go as far. 

Muscles and tendons cover precisely the same space between origin and attachment. When muscles are shortened and inflexible, the tendon is constantly in stretch.

If this is so the tendon pulls on bone and causes inflammation and strain to the joint. 

Pushing too far is exactly what leads to injury.  At least humans have the ability to say “stop” when things don’t go right but our equine counterparts, who generally aim to please us, will often do so to their own detriment. 

Muscle strains are usually caused by sudden stretches that force muscles to go beyond the physiological limit. In other words the muscle fibres fail to cope with the demands placed on them. Often this occurs in a sudden change of direction or even repetitive exercises in a small space of time. It happens so easily. When a muscle fatigues, you already have diminished co-ordination and proprioception in the tissue. Tight muscles fatigue even easier than supple muscles which increases your odds of injury.

What happens to muscle when stretching?

The Importance of Stretching & Strengthening -

As tension increases in a muscle, the fibres in the connective tissue align themselves along the same line of force as the tension. When you stretch, the muscle fibre is pulled out to its full length, and then the connective tissue takes up the remaining slack. When this occurs, it helps to realign any disorganised fibres in the direction of the tension. This realignment is what helps to rehabilitate tissue back to health. Even 5 to 10 minutes of dynamic and static stretching a day will primarily benefit your mind, body, and spirit. Once suppleness has been obtained.

It may be easily maintained by incorporating the correct work into your regular daily routine.

How does stretching help?

  • Promotes energy flow and increased circulation.
  • Redeems the correct balance of tension across muscles and joints.
  • Increases flexibility; this is crucial for overall health and the prevention of injury.
  • Reduces the immobility that can come with ageing by increasing flexibility.
  • Increases the Range of Motion (ROM), in other words, how far your joints can move. If a joint can move through its full ROM, you are less likely to feel restrictions and stiffness, and once again, you have acted preventatively towards any injury.
  • May improve performance in physical activities. ( It is important to note that dynamic stretching and not static stretching will enhance physical performance – explained below).
  • Blood flow is increased in your muscles and joints. This shortens your recovery time post-exercise and reduces muscle stiffness and soreness post-training.
  • Address muscles imbalances that may lead to improved posture through encouraging proper alignment.
  • An excellent way to relieve stress. Getting rid of tension, both physical and emotional, carried in the body will instantly let you feel more relaxed, especially when accompanied by breathing.
  • Helps calm the mind. Couple your stretching with meditation or visualisation for the best results.
  • Decreases musculotendinous stiffness and, therefore, the risk of muscle strain.
  • Gently lengthens and stretches connective tissue/ scar tissue in tendons, promoting collagen fibres’ realignment and strengthening the alignment of tissue post-injury and preventing reinjury.
  • Helps relieve the so often suffered tension headaches.
The Importance of Stretching & Strengthening -
The Importance of Stretching & Strengthening -

Why stretch?

Body tissue works with the concept of cellular memory. Pain, restrictions and discomfort all influence normal movement patterns and lead to the development of dysfunctional movement patterns that become learned and habitual. 

In order to oppose this magnificent physiological phenomenon, re-education is advised through specific stretching and exercise of the body tissue, needed to enhance correct movement.

Top tip for Riders!

The pelvic floor musculature is not mentioned enough in the riding world nor in the world of exercise.

We all know one of the necessities of riding is sitting in the saddle!

But some riders have trouble finding a deep seat and they are unsure of the reason.

It is possible the muscles in your pelvis are tight and restricted.

I’m planning a dedicated blog post on the topic but for now know that a block towards achieving a deep seat may be due to a restriction in your pelvic musculature and I have just the stretch for you…

It’s called a deep squat. It works wonders with lower back pain too.

Try this stretch twice a day (as shown in the picture below), sitting in your deep seat for 30 seconds to 2 minutes depending on what your body is comfortable with. Never do any stretch that causes you pain. You will notice your ability to really sink into the saddle gets better and better with time after applying this stretch.

I’m in the process of creating downloadable stretching regimes for you as a rider and for your horse. I’ll let you know when they are available.

The Importance of Stretching & Strengthening -

Grab My Stretching Do's & Don't's Downloadable PDF

Proper stretching practices correct a horse’s balance and reduces tension across it’s muscles and joints.This guide will teach you how to properly prepare yourself and your horse for implementing an effective and safe habit of daily stretching. Apply what you learn and enjoy a lifetime of joy and performance with your active, healthy & happy horse.

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