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Pauline Moore
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 Posted: Thu Sep 18th, 2008 08:23 am
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Joe and Indy - Thought it might be best to start this as a new thread, have a feeling it could turn out to be a long one.

First a few words about when and why to stretch and when not to - it is not always appropriate.  The purpose of stretching is to lengthen muscles that have shortened for whatever reason.  Shortened muscles reduce the range of motion of the joints and limbs with which they are associated, producing a shortened step and stride length and a reduced ability to bend and flex.  Lack of flexibility exposes the horse/human to a greater potential for injury as well as a reduced level of performance in any athletic pursuit.  Every serious sportsperson incorporates a stretching programme into their own training, knowing they will not be competitive without it, and every gym instructor will nag visitors about stretching.

There are numerous factors that can cause a muscle to become shorter than ideal.  Most commonly, muscles will slowly shorten when they are repetitively used for the same action, even everyday type movement will eventually lead to a shortening of the muscle.    This is an ideal situation for passive stretching to restore muscle length to a basically healthy, strong and well-functioning body - horse or human.

Another fairly common scenario is when a group of muscles has tightened, or shortened, as a protective mechanism for some vulnerable body part, usually the spine carrying the fragile nerves of the spinal cord.  Lack of core strength is one of the main reasons for tightening of the large muscle groups of the legs, eg hamstrings, adductors, quadriceps.  These muscles are bracing to prevent excessive movement of the pelvis which could threaten the safety of the spine in the vulnerable lumbar area - a job which should be done by a strong corset of abdominal muscles.   In this situation stretching would be unwise because the braced muscles are acting like a crutch - take away the crutch and the horse or human will literally fall apart with no ability to avoid serious injury.  It is essential to build some core strength and stability before beginning to stretch.    A good example of this would be Joe's old horse, Dancer.  Joe tells us he had a sagging back and belly before commencing  rehab work - I expect he would also have had tight, hard flexor and extensor muscles, and a shortened stride.  Stretching Dancer at the beginning would not have been a good idea, but now that he has built up a good deal of strength and changed his posture, some gentle stretching will certainly be helpful for him even though some of his hamstring etc tightness will have already eased. 

If anyone is not sure about the advisability of stretching for their own particular horse, I suggest getting a vet/chiropractor to check first.  Having said that, most horses will benefit immensely from simple regular stretching.  Stretching feels as good for them as it does for us.  To compare the difference, try stretching just one of your own legs - do hamstring, calf and quads, holding each stretch for 30 seconds - then walk around to feel the difference between the two legs.  The one that has been stretched will feel lighter, looser, more free - a good feeling.  It is not unusual for the temperament of the horse to change, for the better.  I remember well one middle-aged riding school pony who had become cranky and bad-tempered, to the extent that the owner considered she was becoming dangerous.  There were no major problems with this pony, just an overall stiffness from tight, shortened musculature - we started a stretching programme with her and in less than a week she was back to her normal cheerful and tolerant self.  The owner of the pony did a wonderful job in ensuring the pony was stretched every day and even taught the kids how to do it after every lesson.  The pony never again lost her sweet temper.

There are a few golden rules to keep in mind when stretching:
  • The horse must be relaxed.
  • No stretch should be forced - just hold the limb until you feel the first resistance, like taking up the slack - do not pull, ever.
  • Don't stretch cold muscles, warm-up first with a few minutes of walking, or if you are stretching at the end of a long or strenuous ride, cool down with several minutes of walking, untack, stretch - then hose or wash if you must.
For best results, it is better to stretch all of the major muscle groups of the horse - isolating just one or two will have little if any benefit.    Even when working with a horse recovering from an injury in one limb, I will always stretch the whole horse rather than just that one limb.  If you are running short of time, it would be better to leave it for that day rather than, say, just stretch the front legs and not the rest.

Tomorrow, I'll outline the maintenance routine I do, including how to hold the limbs without straining my own back.   Joe, in answer to your question, there is no one particular book I've found to be any better than the rest, many of them have good photos and many of them also have some details I'm not so keen on, but I haven't seen them all so you may find one that works well for you.

Best wishes - Pauline


Pauline Moore
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 Posted: Fri Sep 19th, 2008 07:55 am
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A few general guidelines to stretching:

Ensure the horse is standing on level ground, more or less square, so he will be comfortable taking his weight on 3 legs.  It doesn't take long before the horse understands what is happening and will organize his own legs in preparation.

Listen to the horse, watch his reactions carefully - he will tell you if he is not comfortable by looking worried, taking his leg back or swaying.  Believe him.  Problems usually only occur when the limb is being overstretched or is held at an awkward angle.  Horses accustomed to stretching will get a soft, half-asleep look in their eyes.

Ideally, each stretch should be held for 30 seconds but initially that is too long for most horses.  To start with, move the limb to the desired position, count to 3, then slowly put it down.  Gradually build up from there - it is not a race.

Never take the weight of a horse's leg with your back unsupported, even if you are fit and strong - a sudden movement by the horse can easily throw you off balance, leading to injury.  I will always have one of my elbows resting on my own thigh or knee if I cannot stand up straight - more details as we go.  None of the stretches I will describe requires any strength but good technique is vital.  Anyone can do this.   I am not naturally strong, but can do this all day without tiring.

Each leg needs to be stretched in the 4 basic directions in which it moves.   After that there are 3 stretches for the torso - a total of 19 stretches @ 30 seconds each = under 10 minutes.  I will describe each stretch as done on the left side of the horse.

The Forelegs

1.  Flexor Stretch - The leg is taken straight forward, with a slight bend kept in the knee and fetlock, do not completely straighten the leg so there will be no possibility of overstretching the long tendons of the flexor muscles.   Be careful not to pull the leg out to the side - the shoulder joint cannot move like that.

Standing facing his shoulder, pick up the leg as though you were going to clean the foot.  Take a step to your left so you are now facing the middle of his neck as you place your right hand behind the knee joint and your left hand under the fetlock joint, drawing the whole limb forward.  Take another step to your left so you are about level with his nose, at the same time twisting around to your left a little so you are standing facing diagonally across in front of the horse.  As you do this, bend your right knee a little and place your left foot a step behind you to give support and balance - rest the fetlock on your thigh and keep your back straight up.  Leave your right hand under the knee,  your left hand can lightly grasp the top of the fetlock to stop it sliding off your thigh.  This is a very comfortable position for both of you with no strain on your back.  Hold in this position for up to 30 seconds.

2.  Abductor Stretch - The upper leg is taken across the chest of the horse, while the lower leg dangles from the knee.  In this stretch the limb does not move very far across.

Start in the same position as the flexor stetch in (1) above.  Take a step to the left so you are facing the middle of his neck as you place your right hand under his leg just above the knee joint and your left hand on top of his knee joint - let the lower leg just hang loosely as you draw the leg forward.  Turn diagonally as above, placing the knee joint over your mid or upper thigh, with one or both of your hands now on top of the leg to stop it sliding off your thigh.  Lean towards the horse slightly (as though doing a tiny lunge) until you feel that first resistance.  Remember to keep your back straight up.  The horse's knee will only move to about mid-chest level at most.  Hold in this position.




More tomorrow - although this is crystal clear in my mind, please let me know if it is clear as mud for everyone else!

Last edited on Sat Sep 20th, 2008 08:03 am by Pauline Moore

Allen Pogue
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 Posted: Fri Sep 19th, 2008 09:02 am
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Hello Pauline  I will share a couple of photos of stretches I teach my horses to do on their own..

 The first one is called Obeisance,

The definition is "a position that expresses supreme submission".

Allen

Attachment: 05-03-05 Obeisance.JPG (Downloaded 1003 times)

Allen Pogue
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 Posted: Fri Sep 19th, 2008 09:09 am
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Pauline et.al.

 Here is a daily training level photo showing an aged stallion executing an obeisance as he reaches for a bit of carrot impaled on the end of a broken whip.

 A bit of black licorice works very well also.

Allen

Attachment: Obeisance new photo.JPG (Downloaded 1002 times)

Allen Pogue
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 Posted: Fri Sep 19th, 2008 09:16 am
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Pauline et. al.

This photo shows a horse using a set of cleats attached to the wall of a traing area.  Use of the cleats requires that the horse do most if not all of the thinking when making the stretch and thus a mental component becomes part and parcel to the exercise.

The horse is taught to use the cleats in the same fashion a ballet dancer uses the 'barre' on the wall of a dance studio.

Start with the lower rungs then teach the horse that ' Bigger" means higher, This will give you a set of cues to use when teaching both the Spanish walk and an extended or circus-style trot.

Allen

Attachment: Hasana salute.JPG (Downloaded 994 times)

Allen Pogue
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 Posted: Fri Sep 19th, 2008 09:22 am
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Pauline the final picture I will share today is a photo of the 'aged' stallion  being ridden by my gal Sue as he executes a Spanish walk. His ability to make such a grand gesture is a result of the previous exercises.

 He is the sire of the gray mare in the previous photo.

Allen

Attachment: 05-19 Sue SW.JPG (Downloaded 992 times)

Pauline Moore
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 Posted: Sat Sep 20th, 2008 07:03 am
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Hello Allen

Fantastic photos, as always - thank you.  I'd be interested to know how long you ask your horses to stay in the stretched position, does that vary from horse to horse?

Your horses are certainly getting an excellent foreleg flexor stretch, and also some hindleg and topline stretch when doing the obeisance move - the cumulative results in that last photo of the old stallion are just wonderful.  Do any of the other stances that you teach also function to stretch extensors, adductors & abductors?  It would be fun to teach horses how to do those also, but I can't recall ever seeing that done anywhere.

Teaching horses to stretch themselves has many benefits as you have already demonstrated, especially when incorporated into a daily routine as you do.  However I would like to add a note of caution for people who are not able to have that consistent time with their horses.  Take for example the obeisance stance as in the photos above.  If there were a break of several weeks or months before the handler resumed asking for this stretch, there is a danger of overstretching and injuring muscles and tendons that have shortened and/or stiffened from lack of practice.  This would never happen with your horses, Allen, as your vast experience and skill equips you to monitor your horses closely and prevent any problem before it starts, but not everyone has yet had the opportunity to acquire that resource depth.

This is one reason I'm a keen advocate of the passive manual stretching I'm describing in this thread - there is a fairly wide margin of safety incorporated so I can be confident no horse is likely to be harmed with even the most inexperienced handler, given the unknown readers of an internet forum.  I would encourage everyone to learn how to teach their horses to do the things your horses do, but to start with the help of someone who knows what they are doing and who understands the vital importance of having the horse relaxed, happy and interested in the proceedings.  Stretching a tense horse will damage him, whether it is passive stretching or trained self-stretching.

You may understand my perspective on this a little better if I relate just a couple of the crazy things I've seen people do in the name of stretching.

Many years ago when I was still working with racehorses, I taught one particular trainer (I'll call him John) how to stretch - it's possible to lengthen stride by more than 2" in just a few weeks.  John was at the racetrack one day with a 10 yr old horse (geriatric for a racehorse) competing in a field of 3 and 4 yr olds.  The old horse won by several lengths.  A trainer occupying the adjacent stables had seen the race, seen John stretching his horse prior to the race, and so started yanking at the legs of his own horse who was then barely able to finish the race, pulling up lame - the trainer had injured his own horse.
On another occasion I needed to do some intensive stretching on a dressage horse competing at Prix St George to release old scar tissue.  The horse first needed to learn how to have his legs handled that way so I showed the rider what to do for the next few days.  I returned to find the rider fighting with her horse, both in a lather of sweat as she tried to force the horse's leg into a certain position.  Unbelievable.  Thoroughly upset, it took more than an hour to get the horse calm enough to begin stretching.

Best wishes - Pauline

Pauline Moore
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 Posted: Sat Sep 20th, 2008 08:01 am
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The Forelegs (Cont)

3.  Extensor Stretch  - The leg is taken back in a straight line towards the hindleg on the same side.

Pick up the leg as in (1) above.  Lean forward as you place your right hand under the pastern and your right forearm on your right bent knee, with your left leg a little behind you for balance.  Cup your left hand around the horse's knee as you gently guide the leg back with the hoof pointing downhill towards the back foot.  Hold in this position.

The weight of the horse's leg is being taken on your own right leg via your arm, and your upper body is also supported on your  right leg with no strain on your back.  There will be very little movement in this stretch, only an inch or two.  If you can reach up with your left hand to feel the chest pectoral muscles just inside the leg, you will feel the tension that prevents the leg from moving any further back.

4.  Adductor Stretch - The upper leg above the knee is drawn out sideways.

As you finish the previous extensor stretch (3), keep your own position and allow the upper leg to return to a roughly vertical position.  Your right hand is still supporting the pastern.  Place your left hand on the inside of the bent knee joint and gently draw out towards you until you feel that first resistance.  Hold in this position.

This also will be a very small movement.  Do not pull out with your right hand, this is supporting only.


The Hindlegs

5.  Extensor Stretch
- The leg is drawn forward in line with the back of the front leg.  Do not have the back hoof higher than midway between front fetlock and knee.  Start with the back foot low to the ground, it is much easier for the horse.

Facing the same way as the horse, just in front of the stifle, turn slightly to your right as you pick up the foot and hold under the fetlock joint with your left hand, placing your left forearm on your left bent knee.  Put your right leg back behind you for balance and your right hand on the back of the hock joint.   Slowly lean forward taking the hoof as far forward as it will easily go.  Hold in this position.

The weight of the hindleg is taken on your left knee via your left arm, as is your upper body with no strain on your back.  With regular stretching most horses will easily be able to touch their front leg with their back hoof, some will go past it.

6.  Flexor Stretch - The leg is taken directly out in a straight line behind the horse.

Pick up the foot as though to clean out, placing your own left leg diagonally behind the hock, allowing the leg to drape over your left thigh as you stand up straight.  Your left hand can lightly hold the hock to stop it slipping off your thigh.  Hold in this position.

To start with, take the leg back only a few inches beyond the tail, working up to a full 45 dg angle, always keeping the foot close to the ground.

7.  Adductor Stretch - The leg is first flexed and then drawn outwards.

Facing the stifle area, lift and bend the leg so that the stifle, hock and fetlock are all  flexed.  Draw the whole leg out towards you, resting the fetlock on your own bent left thigh while standing up straight.  Your left hand will be holding the fetlock with your right hand on the hock.  Hold in this position.

To start with, only draw the leg out a short way as the horse must learn to balance on the other leg.

8.  Abductor Stretch - The leg is drawn diagonally across in front of the other hind leg.

Standing on the right side of the horse at flank level, reach across to pick up the left hind foot.  Draw it across in front of the right hind foot at a 45 dg angle as far as it will easily go.  Keep the foot low to the ground but not on the ground.  Kneel on your left knee with your right elbow on your right knee to support your back.  If you are unsure of your horse, use a soft rope to draw the foot across whilst you remain standing.  Hold in this position.

This is usually the hardest stretch for the horse to learn, but having done so, it seems to be the one they all like best.    Most will want to park the toe on the ground and have a snooze.  Do not allow them to do this, they will not be getting a full stretch, and it is not safe if you are kneeling at their hind feet, they can lose their balance.


That's all the basic leg stretches.  It doesn't really matter which order they are done in but I like to do both front legs first, then the back legs, finishing with the torso stretches as they involve carrots.

Last section tomorrow.




Pauline Moore
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 Posted: Sat Sep 20th, 2008 09:12 pm
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The Torso

9.  Lateral Stretch 
- The horse bends his whole body to the side.

Stand with your back against the girth area of the horse.  With your right hand on the halter cheek piece, slowly draw the horse's head around in front of you, using a strip of carrot held in your left hand as a lure.  Tease the horse a little to lengthen the time he is in this position.  Do not allow him to snatch for the carrot - that is not a stretch and is of no value.

To start with, it is helpful to have the horse standing up against a wall or fence to prevent him from simply spinning around you.

A horse accustomed to doing this stretch regularly will eventually be able to take the carrot from beyond his stifle area without moving his front feet.  It is not unusual for many horses to be so stiff they can barely reach to their own shoulder level.  This stretch is particularly useful when teaching a crooked horse to carry himself straight.  For example, if a horse leans to the left he will likely be permanently flexed to the right - the muscles on his right side will be shorter than those on the left.   This stretch will make it easier for him to change his bend when asked to step under his body shadow with his left hind.  In this case I would probably do 3 stretches at a time where the horse bends to his left, and just one to his right - until the horse is habitually straight, then revert to equal repeats on each side.

10.  Topline Stretch - This is similar to the 'obeisance' except that the front legs remain vertical and square.

Using a carrot strip as a lure, ask the horse to first stretch his neck forward, then downwards to his feet, then between his feet.  Keep the carrot almost on the ground at that point to avoid overstretching the nuchal and supraspinous ligaments when the front legs are vertical - this stretch puts more tension on those structures than 'obeisance'.

Take this stretch very slowly.  I frequently find horses who cannot get their nose past their own knees.  Do not allow them to splay their legs (like a foal) or bend at the knees - defeats the purpose.  A horse doing this stretch regularly will eventually be able to get his ears between his front legs while standing square without bending his knees.

. . . . . . . . . .

There are many other stretches that I use from time to time, usually as part of a therapy programme, but these are the basics for everyday-type maintenance.  I've seen spectacular changes in horses doing only these stretches but they do not reduce the need to straighten our horses and have them mentally relaxed and soft at all times.  

Many thanks to Debranne Pattillo who originally taught me some of these stretches.

Best wishes to all - Pauline

Last edited on Sat Sep 20th, 2008 09:19 pm by Pauline Moore

Indy
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 Posted: Sun Sep 21st, 2008 03:17 pm
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Pauline and Allen,
Thank you for the great information.  I can't wait to try a few of these stretches.  Allen- you have the most beautiful horses.  Your photos are so inspiring.  I never would have thought of trying to teach my horse anything like this, but I think she would really enjoy it. 

Pauline Moore
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 Posted: Sun Apr 18th, 2010 08:43 pm
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This is for Tammy, Mauri and anyone else who would like to do some manual stretching but finds it a little difficult.  This thread was current some 18 months ago so for anyone who hasn't seen it previously, please go back to the beginning to read descriptions for each stretch and some general 'dos' and 'don'ts'.

Just like some people, some horses are inately more flexible than others.  The horse in the photos is 6-yr old Sol who is naturally flexible - he still lies down by just folding all 4 legs and dropping down as easily as a dog; he is not doing anything very strenuous like showjumping or all-day cattle work so I do not stretch him regularly.  As you can see, he is not tied or confined to a small area yet he chooses to stay with me because it is enjoyable for him (always be aware of your own safety if you are not sure of your horse).  My older TB is not naturally flexible so he benefited immensely from stretching - as a maintenance I would stretch him after every ride whether that was once per week or everday.  When we were riding and stretching regularly he became very supple, could bend around me to take a carrot strip from my hand at his hip joint without moving his front feet.


This photo shows a good starting position for the first of the Foreleg Stretches described above.  If I want to increase the stretch by straightening the leg more, all I have to do is move a little further forward so the fetlock is resting on my thigh.


Attachment: Foreleg flexor stretch DSC01166a.jpg (Downloaded 803 times)

Pauline Moore
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 Posted: Sun Apr 18th, 2010 08:47 pm
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This is to go with the No. 2 Foreleg Stretch described above, stretching some of the abductor muscles of the shoulder.

Attachment: Foreleg abductor stretch DSC01170a.jpg (Downloaded 805 times)

Pauline Moore
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 Posted: Sun Apr 18th, 2010 08:50 pm
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This is the stretch for the extensor muscles, No. 3 Foreleg Stretch above.  My right elbow is resting on the inside of my right knee so that my back is supported.

Attachment: Foreleg extensor stretch DSC01178a.jpg (Downloaded 794 times)

Pauline Moore
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 Posted: Sun Apr 18th, 2010 08:52 pm
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This is No. 4 adductor stretch for the Forelegs.

Attachment: Foreleg adductor stretch DSC01180a.jpg (Downloaded 795 times)

Pauline Moore
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 Posted: Sun Apr 18th, 2010 08:55 pm
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This is stretch No. 5 for the Hindlegs, acting on the hamstring and gluteal muscles.

Attachment: Hindleg extensor stretch DSC01172a.JPG (Downloaded 800 times)


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