- Why should you do manual relaxation exercises with your horse?🧐
- Necessary precautions to take before doing manual relaxation exercises to your horse.
- How do you know if it works?
- 13 stretching exercises for your horse
- Find most of these exercises on the Equisense mobile app
The manual relaxation exercises for the horse are a great way to help the horse progress and to prevent musculoskeletal problems. They are perfectly complementary to ridden exercises and give great results, on the condition that you do them well and that you respect your horse! Here are all the keys to do it at home!
Why should you do manual relaxation exercises with your horse?🧐
Stretching or muscular relaxation exercises that you do on foot allow for a healthy horse to make moves with a greater amplitude than usual. The goal is for the horse to warm up and progress!
Doctor Emilie Dallongeville describes these relaxation exercises as allowing to “go past physiological limits but not past the anatomical ones, in order to progress”.
The exercises allow in particular:
- To warm up the horse before a session, for example in order to prepare to 2 tracks work;
- To have the horse make eccentric contractions of the muscles, which are not used to that, and thus developing their strength and tonicity;
- To help the horse acquire new movements or to increase the natural amplitude of these movements, like to perfect the extensions, to better the quality of locomotion – the learning is quicker when you help the horse with relaxation exercises.
Keep in mind that the concentric contractions work on foot, when combined with a good ridden work, equals to bodybuilding your horse! Muscular relaxation exercises on foot are a great work preparation!
Stretching can also be used as part of rehabilitation after a pathology, but this topic is not covered in this article. As a matter of fact, in these cases, the movements must be done by a professional.
Necessary precautions to take before doing manual relaxation exercises to your horse.
Be careful, the exercises you do on foot can be very damaging if they are not correctly executed, or if they are done on a horse with a pathology. It is very important to check with your vet or osteopath that the exercises you are about to do are adapted.
Be very attentive to the slightest resistance or discomfort sign from your horse. It is very simple: if your horse does not want to do it, then don’t. In this case, chat with your osteopath or vet, they’ll help.
You should know too that the results may take a long time to come through, but they can have much impact if you are patient and regular in the exercises.
“Without regularity, no efficacy” – Dr Dallongeville
A few important rules:
- Always start with a small move amplitude. Increase it little by little throughout sessions.
- Always start by the easiest side, to put the horse in good conditions.
- Don’t hesitate to abuse giving carrots or candy to help the movement or to reward!
On the topic of the movement’s duration, Dr Dallongeville suggests an easy method: 5 repetitions of 5 seconds each while using the following technique:
Count 5 seconds. On seconds 1, 2 and 3, stretch progressively. On seconds 4 and 5, hold the position. Then let go and start again 4 other times.
How do you know if it works?
In order to know if your efforts are paying off, the best way is to objectify them thanks to specific measuring tools.
At Equisense, we have developed Equisense Motion S a sensor which precisely analyses the different parameters of the locomotion’s quality (symmetry, cadence, elevation), as well as the horse’s heart rate during ridden or on foot work.
This tool is fixed on a girth or a surcingle, and is linked to the rider’s phone to bring them all the information, in real time or at the end of the session.
By following these indicators throughout the time and the session, you can check that your horse is warming up quicker after having done the relaxation exercises. Its elevation is increasing, there is a better symmetry, a more regular cadence and the heart rate for an equal intensity is lowering. That is to say, the signs of your horse’s progress!
13 stretching exercises for your horse
Let’s get to the actual exercises:
1️⃣ Neck stretching
To stretch and relax the neck, you can proceed in 4 different ways.
Take a carrot and place it:
- towards the chest
- in between the knees, maybe even further back, while staying at the same height
- above the point of the elbow
- towards the fold of the stifle
Each of these movements will stretch a different part of the neck. They are all complementary. Mobilizing the neck allows for a good mobilization of the back!
Don’t forget the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 rule: 1, 2, 3 I stretch, 4, 5 I hold, and I start again 5 times in total for each side.
2️⃣ Back stretching
To stretch the back, we’ll proceed in two ways, this time without a carrot.
- For the first method, we look for a chest flexion. Go next to your horse (any side), slightly behind the shoulder. The goal of the exercise is to have your horse do the “round back”. To do so, you just have to caress the sternum (the girth) the wrong way, applying a slight pressure with your flat hand. The tickly horses will round their thorax a lot while the others won’t budge! Be careful though, because the horses with sore stomachs might not like this.
- For the second method, we look for a lumbar flexion. Go behind your horse (mind your safety here, don’t do this if you have any doubt). You’ll simply place both your flat hands on the points of the buttocks, and while keeping some pressure, slide down your hands downwards, as if you were pulling an imaginary cover down. Your horse should lower its hips to follow your hands and by doing so, flex its back. If it does not react, close your fists to have a more protruding contact and start again, while staying soft in your touch. You should see your horse put its tail in and round its back.
I only gave you two exercises here. More exist, but if you wish to go further, it is better to ask a professional what to do with your horse.
3️⃣ Forelegs stretching
To stretch and relax the forelegs, I suggest 4 methods:
- Forwards stretch (protraction): Go in front of your horse, and take its foreleg by putting a hand above the fetlock and the other in the crease of the pastern. Stretch the leg towards and downwards. Pretend like you want it to put its leg down as far as possible.
This exercise will help you improve the extensions of your horse!
- Backwards stretch (retraction): Face the same direction as your horse. Take the leg by putting one hand above the knee and the other by the pastern. Slowly bring the leg backwards and downwards, as if you wanted to make it touch the back hoof.
- Inwards stretch (adduction): Here, you want to have your horse cross its forelegs. To do so, go on the opposite side (on the right to do the left foreleg). Take the leg you want by holding it by the top of the cannon, and stretch it towards you and downwards, by crossing in front of the other leg.
- Outwards strech (abduction): You want here to stretch the leg outwards. This time, go on the side of the leg you want to stretch. Take it by putting a hand above and the other under the knee, and stretch it outwards, just like in a lateral movement.
These last two exercises will help you a lot to improve lateral movements!
📚 Read also : 3 exercises to strengthen your horse’s shoulder muscles.
4️⃣ Hindlegs stretching
For the hindlegs, we will only see 3 exercises, because the abduction is more difficult than for the forelegs.
- Forwards stretch (protraction): Go next to your horse, facing its tail. Take the leg and bend it. Then, put a hand on the back of the fetlock and the other in the crease of the pastern. Stretch the leg forwards and downwards. Do as if you wanted it to touch the bulbs of the heels of the foreleg.
- Backwards stretch (retraction): We’ll work in a less conventional way here for obvious safety reasons. Go next to your horse, by its hindleg, facing the hindquarters. Ask for the hindleg that is on your side, and place the fold of the hock on your thigh (left thigh if left hindleg). Move this thigh forward in order to create a split between your legs, on the horse’s side. Your other leg should be stretched behind you to keep your balance. The idea is to make the hindleg go as far back as possible.
- Inwards stretch (adduction): Here, you want to cross the hindlegs of your horse. To do so, go on the opposite side (on the right to work on the left hindleg). Take the hindleg by holding it by the fetlock and pastern. Stretch it towards you and downwards (so towards the right for the left hindleg), by crossing the leg in front of the other leg.
These exercises will help you a lot in ridden work, just like the forelegs exercises!
Find most of these exercises on the Equisense mobile app
Most of the exercises are available for free in the Equisense mobile app. Don’t hesitate to download it, it’s available on iOS and Android, and does not require any subscription.
Many scientific studies proved the efficiency of these muscular relaxation exercises for the horse, what we call “carrot stretching”. Don’t hesitate to get to it! In addition to all the benefits for the horse, these exercises will allow you to spend time with your horse, to develop your bond, and to better know its limits and tolerance. All of this will prove to be very useful to create a meaningful link between you two.
See you very soon for a new article,
Cofounder of Equisense
 J.-M. Denoix et J.-M. Pailloux, Approche de la kinésithérapie du cheval. Paris, France: Maloine, 1997.
 J.-M. Denoix, Biomécanique et gymnastique du cheval. Paris, France: Vigot, 2014.
 K. Haussler, « Joint Mobilization and Manipulation for the Equine Athlete », Vet. Clin. North Am. – Equine Pract., vol. 32, p. 87‑101, 2016.