A good way to learn how to apply passive stretching exercises is to begin right after riding when you remove the tack. Pick up each leg, one at a time and hold it without trying to stretch it.
Try to maintain the stretch for 10 seconds. Repeat this stretch for 3 – 4 days. By this time the horse should lift his foot as you take up position next to each leg.
Once the horse accepts standing on three legs (especially if he is a young horse), you may start with small rotations of the legs. The rotations are safe and easy to perform.
Once you have mastered the rotations, try a mild forward stretch. Hold the first stretch for 5 seconds. Replace each leg in its original position. (Don’t just drop the leg, place it gently on the ground. Your horse knows about respect so he will trust you if you are careful with him.)
Increase the range of the stretches slowly until your confidence grows, then try the more difficult backward and lateral stretches. Try to get the feel of the difference between resistance and normal movement. Only when you know the correct feel should you stretch the muscles to their full capacity.
Don’t get bored as it may take up to two weeks to learn the routine. During this time do not overstretch or hold the stretch for too long. Choose one exercise at a time and practice it until it comes naturally to you. Also, find a stretch that is fun for your horse as he won’t know what is going on. If you make it a little game he will be interested and participate. Add other stretches when you are ready.
Remember about overstretching. This will cause harm to your horse especially the hamstring area, and don’t try to stop the horse with a bit.
COMBINING STRETCHING WITH MASSAGE, YOU WILL ACHIEVE A BOOST IN CIRCULATION, A DECREASE OF CONSTRICTIONS, AND AN INCREASE IN RANGE OF MOTION.
Stretching a younger horse
Active stretching (ridden) is more applicable for the young horse than passive stretching. Passive stretch exercises used too early may lead to destabilizing of the joints. The back vertebrae may become loose and unstable therefore not able to form a strong base for the limbs. Keeping the muscles pliable at this point is crucial for him later on in his life. Stretch exercises for your horse in all directions should be maintained from early in training to prevent the natural tightness from setting in.
For a good back stretch walk your horse up and down hills
Center Carrot Stretches
Tuck toward the chest ~ stretches the poll, crest and neck muscles, opens the space between the base of the skull and the first vertebra (atlas). See image to right.
Down between the forelegs toward girth ~ stretches the top line, crest, and withers: opens up the withers and thoracic vertebrae.
Toward the stifle ~ stretches the lower neck area and opens the shoulders.
Toward the hip bone ~ stretches the lateral flexors of the neck. The shoulder and part of the rib cage and spine; a good, thorough lateral stretch.
Toward the elbow ~ slowly raising it toward the withers ~ stretches the lower neck and point of the shoulder area and upper neck.
Draw his head forward and down, then with his neck remaining centered and low, place your hand behind his ear to stabilize him. Slowly draw his head so it is to the side, so his cheek is parallel to ground, then draw his nose upward and give him his carrot. This half twist exercise will increase poll flexibility so he can do the other stretches normally and effectively.
Stretching the Older Horse
As we age, ligaments and tendons become tighter making us all less flexible. It is the same with your horse. Over time he will need much more stretching exercises than ever before or he will lose suppleness. Both active and passive stretches are necessary – especially lateral stretching. Before any work program is performed he will need a good warm-up and stretching of all muscle groups. Go easy with your stretch routine on the older horse or you will cause more harm.