Back Stretches for Athletic Horses
Disclaimer: I am not a vet or equine health care professional. All of the information in this article comes from personal experience and an accumulation of books, articles, and advice.
When I first bought Truman, he was fairly unevenly muscled. Throughout the year that I have had him, he has bulked up pretty significantly. This process has caused some of his muscles to become tight and sore, just like us people when we start to work out again after a long sedentary spell.
To help Truman overcome his sore muscles, I learned how to help him stretch. His back was the most troublesome, so I’ll mainly talk here about back stretches, even though there are plenty of great leg that you can do as well.
Always stretch your horse when he is warmed up, and always make sure to take him for a short walk afterwards. This helps prevent injury, which would of course be the opposite of what we are looking for!
Sideways carrot stretch
For this one you will bring a carrot or treat to your horse’s left elbow, right around where your girth sits. The first time you do this, he may try to move his feet in order to get the carrot, but encourage him to stand with his feet square and simply reach around with his neck. Hold the carrot there for about ten seconds. Then give him the carrot and let him relax. If that is easy, you can have him reach for his stifle next, but be sure not to push it if he isn’t ready. Also, always make sure to stretch both sides!
Low sideways carrot stretch
This one is just like the one above, only you’ll go a little further back and close to hock level. Ideally, you’ll eventually get him all the way to his hock, but keep in mind he may not be ready for that yet!
Chest carrot stretch
For this stretch you’ll hold the carrot right in the center of his chest and ask him to curl his neck toward his chest for ten seconds before taking the carrot.
Between the knees carrot stretch
Next you’ll hold the carrot between his knees, asking him to bow a little deeper. If this gets really easy you can start to bring the carrot further back and ask him to deepen a little. Remember to take this slow, and don’t over do it.
Between the feet carrot stretch
The final forward bow stretch is reaching toward the ground between his feet. Bring the carrot right in between his fetlocks and ask him to reach for the ground. Again, hold about ten seconds and then give him the carrot.
This stretches the topline really nicely. There are two ways to perform this stretch. The first is to stand next to the horse and use pointy fingers push up on his belly until you see his spine come up. This method doesn’t seem to work as well for Truman, so instead, I stand directly behind him at his tail. I take two fingers and push with some force down along either side of his spine (about 3 inches or so on either side) and then slowly drag my fingers down the back of his cheeks. I stop as soon as I see his back rise, even a little bit.
Sideways Tummy Tucks
This stretches the lumbar/sacral section of the back. To do this, you start out the same way as the other tummy tucks from behind. Instead of going down the back of your horse’s cheeks, you go down the side. Again, stop as soon as you see his back lift, even a little.
For this one, make sure your horse is relaxed and standing square. Stand at his tail, but beside him this time. Hold onto the dock of his tail and slowly rock him side to side just a few inches. You should see the movement carry all the way up to his nose.
Here is a great handbook from UTCVM that shows detailed pictures of most of the stretches I have just mentioned. If these are at all unfamiliar to you, I recommend you check this out before beginning.
These stretches made a huge improvement in Truman’s development. I am so glad that I knew about carrot stretches, and was able to use them frequently throughout his routine. What is your experience with carrot stretches? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section!