Horse Leg Care: Stretches and Warm Ups
Last week, we posted an article about horse leg care after a jump school. Today, we’re taking the time to discuss what you should be doing before your ride – stretches and warm ups to make sure that your horse is loose, supple, and ready to begin working.
Any athlete knows that stretching prior to a workout is a good way to get your blood flowing, start to warm up your tendons and ligaments for more rigorous exercise, and to notice any stiff or sore muscles that may indicate a need to change or adjust your routine. The same goes for your horses, and if you add some simple stretches to your grooming and tacking up routine, you’ll be able to help your horse perform better, help keep him safe from tendon or ligament injuries as well as notice any stiffness or soreness that may require further attention.
Many equestrians work “carrot stretches” into their grooming routine. It’s easy to get a horse to bend their neck to their side to follow a treat. We prefer doing several on each side of the horse – one by their shoulder, one at the girth, one by the hip, and have the horse hold the stretch for 10-15 seconds.
One area of the horse that tends to get tight and block movement is the long muscle in front of their shoulder. You can stretch this muscle by lifting your horses’ hoof as if you were to pick it, and then bending their neck to the opposite side. At first, it might take an assistant to help you teach your horse, but once they understand how good the stretch feels, it will become easier to put them into this stretch.
Once your carrot and shoulder stretches are done, leg stretches are next up. First, pick up the leg and stretch it out in front of your horse. It’s easy if you cradle the fetlock in one hand and hold the hoof in the other. Then, just lean back a little and stretch the entire leg straight out. Be careful not to lift the leg too high, you just want it to be slightly bigger than a normal, engaged step would be. Hold this for up to 15 seconds before slowly releasing and setting the hoof down, and then repeat on the other side.
You can repeat a similar stretch with hind legs, and add a small circling of the leg to loosen the stifle, gaskin and hip joint. Not a big circle – just around a little bit – and be careful if your horse has any hind end issues.
Be sure to stretch yourself out, too, with some basic leg, back and arm stretches before you begin your ride.