Stretches are an important part of an exercise routine to create a good range of motion of the limbs and to ensure the horse can stretch equally both sides. This is useful for performance, as if the horse has a good range of motion, lateral work and jumping won’t be restricted due to a small range of motion.
Before doing these stretches it is necessary to make sure the horse is fit and has no contraindications to being stretched. The person doing the stretches should wear protective clothing and should aim to have a strong core and have a bend in the knees to protect the back. A warm up before stretching is recommended, as warmed up muscles will reduce the risk of injury from overstretching.
Each stretch is normally held for between 15-30 seconds, but this can be less if the horse finds it difficult. Make sure the horse is comfortable with the stretch, if not reduce the stretch or stop stretching altogether. Ideally stretches would be done between 1-2 times a week as research has shown that stretching 6 times a week increased the likelihood of delayed onset muscle soreness, whereas 2 times a week increased range of motion of the limb. When stretching make sure to stretch both sides of the horse to reduce one-sidedness.
Hind limb protraction stretch
The hind limb protraction stretch is useful for stretching the hamstring musculature of the hindquarters. Protraction means to move forwards so this stretch encourages the horse’s limb to go forwards. To do this stretch lift the hind limb and gently bring forward.
Hind limb retraction stretch
This stretch is a retraction stretch meaning the hind limb is stretched backwards, it aims to stretch the retractor muscles such as the biceps femoris muscle. Lift the hind limb and gently bring backwards, this is a stretch that horses do not do regularly so it’s important to ease the limb backwards slowly.
Forelimb retraction stretch
The forelimb retraction stretch aims to move the forelimb backwards, stretching out the forelimb retractor muscles such as thoracic trapezius. Lift the limb like you would to pick the foot out and gently stretch backwards.
The forelimb protraction stretch aims to stretch the protraction muscles such as the cervical trapezius (shoulder musculature). Lift the forelimb by the fetlock and gently bring the forelimb forward to a point where the horse is comfortable.
Baited stretches help activate and increase muscle strength in the horses back, abdominals and neck. To perform these stretches use a lickit or carrot to encourage the horse to stretch down to the floor, to the fetlocks and to the chest (as picture shows). Start off getting the horse to stretch down to the floor then build up to the chin to chest stretch.
Lateral bend stretch
This stretch encourages the horse to flex and stretches out the neck musculature, it is useful for building neck muscle strength and enables the horse to have a good lateral flexion which is important for all disciplines.