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Pauline Moore
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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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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 12:03 pm by Pauline Moore

Allen Pogue
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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 1056 times)

Allen Pogue
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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 1054 times)

Allen Pogue
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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 1046 times)

Allen Pogue
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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 1044 times)

Pauline Moore
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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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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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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 Sun Sep 21st, 2008 01:19 am by Pauline Moore

Indy
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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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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 856 times)

Pauline Moore
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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 858 times)

Pauline Moore
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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 847 times)

Pauline Moore
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This is No. 4 adductor stretch for the Forelegs.

Attachment: Foreleg adductor stretch DSC01180a.jpg (Downloaded 846 times)

Pauline Moore
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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 851 times)

Pauline Moore
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This is Hindleg stretch No. 8 described above, for the abductors.

Attachment: Hindleg abductor stretch DSC01173a.jpg (Downloaded 755 times)

Pauline Moore
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This is No. 6 Hindleg stretch above to act on the quadriceps, hip flexors.

Attachment: Hindleg flexor stretch DSC01174a.jpg (Downloaded 749 times)

lighthorse
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Thank you Pauline.  I forgot this thread was started a long time ago.  Since the TX clinic I've been picking at the Spanish walk....looking at the gray stallion,  we've got a ways to go!  I've got a great stomper, tho'.

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Thank you Pauline, an excellent, excellent discription and the pictures are wonderful.  Thanks for your willingness to share.  And as usual thanks to Allen too.  Love those horses.  Regards Sam

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Excellent, thank you Pauline. I can see a couple of school boy errors I have been making which have been causing things to be much harder than they need to be! Very valuable information, and great photos. Thanks - Megan

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I like the thoroughness of the reply & consideration for the horse!

And this should answer any actual question that you may have had, Paddle. I will delete your other thread, as this is what the search engine should have found and did find. -- Dr. Deb

Last edited on Mon May 7th, 2012 01:30 am by DrDeb

paddle
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where in a stretch routine would you have a horse do carrot stretches?

DrDeb
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Paddle -- carrots, no carrots -- no difference. The real question is, do you understand how to use food treats as rewards rather than bribes?

Your first task, if you're interested in stretches, is to learn from Pauline's example exactly how to do each stretch, and then establish a routine by which you perform them correctly each time you're around your horse.

You can read in many of the petty horse magazines all about "carrot stretches". Understand that many times, these articles are written by non-experts, and at a level suitable for an 8 year old -- in other words, outside of the well-edited horse publications, it isn't worth your time or effort. Pauline's essay in this thread is a MOST generous contribution by an expert. -- Dr. Deb

paddle
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sorry I did not understand how the site worked. No I don't know difference betw bribe & reward. Horse .com has some articles re research on using carrot stretches by Hilary Clinton. Pauline's article is a treasure of a find.

DrDeb
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OK, Paddle, let's begin your education with this point. What do you THINK might be the difference between a reward and a bribe?

Help yourself out once again on getting it right by using the Google advanced search function to search for previous discussions in this Forum that have "bribe" as a keyword.

It does not matter whether you get a wrong or a right answer, either, by the way. What I want students to do is to THINK FOR THEMSELVES and just take a stab at it. We'll go from there. -- Dr. Deb

Angelexy
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Hi Pauline

Which exercises do you consider the best for building core strength and stability in a horse?

Thanks Angie

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Hello - I've been trying these stretches with my horses today and now intend to work them into our normal routine.

I've a question regarding the lateral stretch - should the horse's muzzle be fully extended when reaching for the treat, or should I aim for the ears and the muzzle to be more in vertical alignment?  I've attached a photo to show what the stretch looks like at the moment with one of the horses - the horse is seems to be reaching with her head more than her neck, although obviously her neck is reaching round as well.  It would be good to know if this a good start or not!  This was the only stretch that I wasn't sure what position I was looking for. 

I've also noticed one horse has more trouble doing the various foreleg stretches (the chestnut in the photo) while another I stretched today for the first time had more difficulty with the hind leg stretches. By trouble/difficulty I mean a tenancy to take the leg back before I wanted to release it, or feeling the leg twitch as they tried to balance.  I'm not surprised that there are differences, but I was wondering if somebody might suggest what these differences might tell me about these two horses?  

As an end-note, both horses appeared to enjoy the process and even when they were struggling a bit, they were trying hard to co-operate and really relaxed into the stretches when they could. 

Thank you, Kate 


Attachment: IMG_9579.JPG (Downloaded 354 times)

Pauline Moore
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Hello Kate

Please read again the guidelines for Stretch No 9, the lateral torso stretch, where I suggest that you stand with your back to the girth area of the horse.

The purpose of this particular stretch is targeted at helping the horse to release his ribcage; any resulting stretching of the neck musculature is incidental and not the main purpose. Therefore I don't care about the positioning of the head when doing this particular stretch. If a horse needs work specifically on the neck or head area, then I will address that separately.

By standing with your back to the girth area, the horse has to bend around you. This causes the horse to bend through his thoracic and lumbar vertebrae, to the extent that he can.

When this stretch is done as shown in your photo, the horse can simply crank his neck around without changing the flexion of his thoracic spine.

As you become more experienced and familiar with doing these stretches, you will learn to release the limb before the horse feels the need to pull it back himself. There should never be any struggling.

The twitching/trembling you describe indicates you are stretching the leg too far at this early stage; the horse is not relaxed. Remember the 2 golden rules: the horse must be totally relaxed, and no pulling. Think of guiding the leg to the limit of its comfortable range of motion but no further, like 'taking up the slack' in a rope but not putting any tension on that rope. The value is in holding at that point for the 30 seconds, not in getting the limb to the greatest distance possible.

For some horses, you may have to start with holding the limb for only 5 seconds, then progressively working up to 30 seconds over a couple of weeks. Let each horse tell you what he feels comfortable with; as you have already discovered, each will react differently.

Well done for giving it a go.

Best wishes
Pauline

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Thankyou Pauline for clarifying what I consider important point for the lateral stretch! I need to go back & review other info re this stretch to make sure I didn't miss a point. Because my horse is hypp, I am using apple wedges. Do you have any other suggestions of what to use as a lure?

Pauline Moore
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Paddle - Use whatever works for your horse, a wisp of hay might do.

The whole idea of using a lure for this stretch but not the others, is to induce the horse to maintain the stretch for as long as possible. Making a game out of teasing the horse a little, with the carrot/hay just out of reach, is a fun way for the horse to stay interested in keeping the bend through his spine - although it's unlikely a horse will stay there for a full 30 seconds. As mentioned to Kate, the value is in the time for which the stretch is maintained, not the distance.

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Thankyou! I have enjoyed & learned from your posts

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Thank you, I understand my mistakes now. Glad I asked!

Kate

Pauline Moore
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Hi Angie

Exercises to progressively develop core strength in the horse have been discussed previously, so you might like to use the search function to bring up older threads, although some discussions may have been on the previous version of this forum.

Assuming the horse is completely sound and injury-free, there are a number of ways to target the muscles that provide a corset-like strength and protection to the vulnerable lumbar and pelvic areas of the body. All of the examples below are very strenuous for the weak or unconditioned horse, so should not be overdone.

As always, the horse must be relaxed, free from any anxiety about what is expected. Tension will cause the horse to contract his topline extensor muscles and be unable to properly use the abdominal and psoas flexor muscles that need to be strengthened.

1. Using ground poles at a walk is a good beginning, starting with just one, and then slowly working up to 3 or 4 in a grid. Trotting over the poles can be introduced when the horse is completely confident about the poles at a walk, but go back to 1 or 2 poles when starting to trot.

Whether done as ground work or from the saddle, I like to ask the horse for a halt and one step back both before and after traversing the grid, maybe a couple of strides out from each end. This puts the horse into a body posture that can easily access the desired flexor muscles, and also helps to prevent any build-up of excitement that some green horses feel when allowed to complete whole circles around poles.

The difficulty can be increased by arranging the poles in a fan shape so the horse must take a longer step with the outside limbs than the inside pair.

The inside ends of the poles can also be raised by placing them on a low platform (bricks, small car tyre, etc) so the horse then has to take shorter, higher steps with the inside pair of legs, and longer, lower steps with the outside pair.

2. An exercise I’ve found particularly beneficial for a more experienced horse is to ride or lunge the horse on a slightly sloping ground. On a 15 or 20 metre circle, trot the top half of the circle and walk the bottom half. The horse will have to really use his hindquarters to push off into the trot on the uphill half, and then use his hindquarters again, as a brake, when transitioning to the walk on the downhill half.

A variation of this can be done in a flat arena or even in a straight line out on a trail ride.

If in an arena, walk the short sides and trot the long sides. Before each transition to trot from walk, halt the horse and take two steps back, then think of going straight from reinback into trot. The green horse will not be able to go straight from reinback or halt to trot, and should not be forced or kicked into doing so. It is enough for the rider/handler to think of or visualize the horse doing that type of transition; forcing will simply cause contraction of the topline, the exact opposite of what is desired.

Similarly, when transitioning from trot to halt at the end of the long side of an arena, it is enough for the rider/handler to think of doing that change of pace. The green horse must be allowed some walk steps, not be hauled to a halt as that also would cause topline contraction.

Both the circles on a slope and the variation on the flat are very strenuous for the horse. To start with, no more than 3 circuits in each direction, no more than 3 times per week.

Even that seemingly small amount will usually produce visible changes in the horse’s posture in about 3 weeks. Most often the back can be seen to be carried at a higher overall level, a good couple of inches with some horses. This indicates the abdominal muscles have strengthened and are able to support the spine via increased intra-abdominal pressure.

3. Another excellent exercise that any sound horse can do is to back up and down a small slope, one step at a time; literally step/halt/step/halt etc. This prevents momentum from providing any energy – the effort must all come from the horse.

Best wishes
Pauline

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Pauline:

Can you explain the grid pattern you use when arranging the poles.  Do you lay one pole on top of the other to form small squares, or do you use the poles to make big squares?  Is the goal to walk a serpentine through the pattern?  I'm having a hard time picturing this.  Thanks.

Jane

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You should write a book!! Your presentation of material is so clear. Has it been done? Thankyou for the time you take to write these posts!

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Thankyou - I already incorporate poles into my mix and will incorporate the variations you describe with regard to slope and raising the inside ends of the poles from now on - even though my horses are sound and healthy I see poles as a good sound strengthening foundation that my horses and I enjoy playing with.

I would appreciate an opinion however (with respect to the fact I am hoping what I am asking the horse to do is actually a healthy stretch both mentally and physically for the horse)

My horses start jumping via ground work (online...not free jumping)).  For a start it gives me invaluable information just by watching the horses expression, interest  and OK'ness and how they tackle a new 'scary' jump in some cases).

My theory is also 'width' rather than height of the jumps. i.e I start with one barrel width and then increase to two and then three wide - you can see them stretch and use their shoulders and hind quarters really well...I see it as a similar posture to stepping up on a platfrom with the front feet - but with more benefits - I even do the half circle exercise (that Buck taught us when he was here) over the jumps - man they get nippy and powerful and they love it.

I have found when they start like this when it comes to riding them over jumps, all I have to do is be a good passenger and stay out of their way - I think it is helpful for the horses confidence and mine because you see them work it all out for themselves without me potentially doing the wrong thing at the wrong time if I was in the saddle.  Like when you see some people flap and whip and yell at the horse when if you sat quietly and waited, the horse could have time to figure out the jump without all the tension & drama!...it then becomes hard to convince the horse it isn't going to happen all the time at every jump  and in my opinion thats why horses go like a bat out of hell and get dangerous over jumps.

I would just like to add that I am not a competitive 'show jumper' by any means - I just enjoy jumping and am not particularly brave (height wise), but have found when I set up a round of jumps at home (usually tyres / logs / barrels etc...old troughs or whatever I can find :-)...the horses are such a pleasure and so much fun - because they know they can do it and so do I.  When I go to friends houses and we play around in their arena etc - my horses trust me and are OK about just about everything I ask them to jump and that includes the odd local show!

Thanks Angie

 

 

 

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Jane - In this context, a grid is a row of parallel poles spaced appropriately for walk or trot, just like cavaletti.

Paddle - No book, but there is a Stretching document in pdf format which might be easier to print out. Anyone who wants this can send me an email requesting a copy (address on the members page).

Angie - what is it specifically that you are asking?

Last edited on Fri May 11th, 2012 11:24 am by Pauline Moore

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Hi Pauline

Apologies, I do tend to waffle on....:-)

Are the online jumping techniques over wide jumps I use with my horses physically therapeutic for them too?

As long as they are widened gradually and the horse is warmed up and relaxed that is.

Regards Angie

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Just to clarify further.

To start jump training a horse - physically would it be more therapeutic and helpful for the animal to end up (after the first initial stages) starting to jump over 'wider' jumps rather than straight up and down 'narrow' jumps - this would encourage the horse to stretch and reach over the jump which would help to give them confidence and good techinque i.e that lovely 'bascule' over the fences that certain horses do.  Am I on the right track?

Thanks Angie

Pauline Moore
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Hi Angie

You are heading in the right direction in wanting your horse to bascule over a jump. This is just another word to describe a body posture where the horse has coiled his loins and raised his back and neck base. Sound familiar? We could just as easily say we want the horse to be collected when he jumps. We do not want the horse to jump with a hollow, extended spine, any more than we want the horse to move in that manner for flat work.

The muscles involved in producing a bascule body shape are the same as those used in producing a collected body shape. Therefore, the best preparation for teaching a horse to jump well is to first teach him how to carry himself in a ‘round’ or collected posture for all flat work. It is then an easy and natural progression for the horse to maintain that posture as he learns to negotiate poles, cavaletti and small jumps, or whatever it is you want him to jump.

The first step in that process is to work on straightness. If the horse is crooked within himself, he will not be able to properly flex all the joints needed to coil the loins and lift the back and neck base. He will then not be ‘round’ and will jump with a flattened or hollow back.

Last year I went to a lecture by an exercise physiologist who was discussing core strength for riders. She explained that if the rider is crooked, ie leaning to one side, the rider’s own core muscles will not be activated. It is likely that crookedness affects horses in the same way.

There have been many previous discussions on how to help a horse adopt a straight posture by changing the flexion of his ribcage, stepping under his body shadow, etc. You should be able to locate some of those discussions quite easily.

A straight, round posture is the starting point for anything we could want a horse to do, whether that is a quiet trail-ride or the above-ground airs of the classical high school. The question of wide jumps or high jumps then has no significance.

The horse in the photo below has, of his own volition, taken on a highly collected body posture. The neck base and back are raised, the loins coiled so the croup is lowered, all joints of the hind limbs are deeply flexed and the forehand is lightened. From this posture he could easily launch himself over a high jump or a wide jump while maintaining a bascule shape, do some piaffe steps or rise into a levade – the choice is his. He is ready for anything, but decides on a simple turn on the haunches.

We mostly do not need this degree of collection, but the principle is the same with just a small degree of collection/roundness – the horse is ready for anything that is appropriate to his energy level and experience.

Another area I would want to look at for any jumping horse is the depth and texture of the digital cushions, especially of the front feet, as this is where most of the landing impact concussion will be taken. Wide heels and good depth with firm, rubbery texture will help to prevent skeletal damage from repeated jumping, although no doubt you would not want to jump your horse that much.

Best wishes
Pauline

Attachment: Collection.jpg (Downloaded 401 times)

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Hi Pauline,
   Do you have any recommendations for neck stretches/ massage?

Also, do you think the " goat on the mountain" stretch, where the horse puts his four feet as close together as is comfortable , as if he were standing on a pedestal, and then stretching the neck down, is a good stretch for the whole topline? We've been working on that one at the very end of the other stretches, as it seems to be one where he needs to be loosened up.

Thank you so much for all your information and great photos!
                                               Jeannie

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Hi Pauline

Thankyou for your time - your post(s) make perfect sense.  I believe you have a gift in the way you explain things and your stretching descriptions and  pictures are very helpful and much appreciated.  I am particularly grateful your  pictures clearly show how to incorporate them with your own back preservation/posture in mind :-)

I have a list of old threads I am slowly working through and referring back to time and again.  As always I am working on the balance of 'theory' versus 'doing' - observing, remembering and comparing as Buck has said to us every time he is in NZ - so I can be there for my horses.

Kind Regards

Angie

 

Pauline Moore
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Hi Jeannie

Love the description 'goat on the mountain'! Yes, this would be a very good stretch if you can get your horse to maintain the posture for as long as possible. You could encourage him to have his muzzle progressively further back towards, or even between, his front feet - but keep his nose as close to ground-level as you can. The nuchal ligament and supra-spinous ligament could possibly be overstretched if the horse is allowed to curl his muzzle back under towards his chest. This is another reason to take care in using a lure such as a carrot for any stretches; the horse may be tempted to snatch for the treat and thus go beyond the distance capacity of whichever soft tissues are involved.

Another way of doing this type of stretch is to do a belly lift with one hand, while guiding the muzzle to ground level with the other. Takes a bit of practice and co-ordination, but it's another variation on the same theme.

The method for doing the simple maintenance stretches discussed previously evolved from my days working with fractious, unmannered young TBs in racing stables. I needed to find a way to keep myself safe that was also soothing and of some benefit to the horses. That quiet 30 seconds of doing nothing while holding each stretch is very relaxing for the horse - we are often so busy around our horses. I've not yet met a horse who doesn't very quickly get to enjoy the whole process - even those rowdy racing youngsters.

Those same techniques were also easy for novice horse-handlers to use without hurting themselves or upsetting their horses. However, for experienced handlers and quiet horses, our imagination is the only limit on what we can do to stretch the horse's body and entertain his mind.

A horse ridden in a 'round' slightly collected posture will as a consequence be extending and stretching his neck away from his body, so may not need anything further. This is therapeutic in itself. For horses not at that level of training, getting them to stretch forwards/downwards over a chest-height obstacle would be good (anything will do that is just a little too high to step over). Using a lure of some sort would probably be needed, at least to start with.

Lateral neck stretches can be done at different heights. I will usually stand as in the lateral torso stretch, with my back to the girth area, but rather than have the horse bend around me, I will hold my arm out in front of me. The horse does not flex his body in these stretches, and does not bend his neck far enough to prompt twisting of the vertebrae. I might hold my hand (with the lure) up high above my head, or level with my body, or down at knee level, so the horse is stretching in 3 different ways. These are stretches I tend to do as a therapy rather than normal maintenance.

Any horse who is habitually anxious, or is ridden with a raised head and extended spine, will likely have significant neck problems. Massage and trigger-point work does help but it's too hard to effectively describe that here.

Best wishes
Pauline

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Great, thanks Pauline. Maybe I can get a photo of the stretch to post. I would think it would feel like the cat stretch in yoga, where you arch your back while on your hands and knees. A counter to having a saddle and rider on their backs.

 It's not surprising that horses quickly realize the enjoyment of stretches, I've always thought of horses having more appreciation for living between the notes than we have.

 I can see the benefit of having them stretch down over a barrier, they would have to lengthen and arch at the same time. I'll try the other lateral stretches as well, I've noticed his shoulders have more range of movement since we have been working on those. A good solution for keeping the muscles from getting tight after we've worked on making them stronger.

There are a pair of photos in the book " The Kingdom of the Horse", showing a horse at the beginning of training, then six years later, and it was quite amazing to see the change, it looked like a different horse. I wish I had taken more photos over the years.
         Best, Jeannie

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Helpful stretches here.

JTB
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Need to find this again!




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