FROM HORSE AND RIDER - JAN. 2016
Adapt your horse's routine to maintain and improve his flexibility, and you'll reap the rewards when riding and strengthen his defence against injury. Charlotte Anderson finds out how
Carrots are typically used for baited stretches because your horse can grab them without mistaking them for your fingers, something which is an easy mistake for him to make if the treat used is smaller. Licks can be useful as they will keep your horse in the stretch position for longer and you can chose one to suit his dietary requirements. Use sugar-free alternatives if your horse is on a calorie-controlled diet.
The term flexibility in relation to horses means they are capable of bending and flexing without injury. Maintaining flexibility is vital to your horse's health, as a stiff horse with a reduced range of movement will find it much harder to work correctly, will take longer to warm up and is more likely to sustain injuries. The best way to do this is to maintain his full range of movement. Manage his routine incorporating small changes that will reduce the chances of him becoming stiff and you'll maintain an athletic, injury-free horse for longer.
H&R spoke to experts in their respective fields to find out how best to maintain and improve your horse's flexibility.
Groundwork - carrot stretching
Baited stretches are an excellent way to loosen up your horse before or after exercise. Because baited stretching is an active stretch, it can be done even when your horse is not warmed up, which makes it a convenient, quick addition to his daily routine. Passive stretching, where a handler assists the horse to stretch, should only ever be performed once the horse has been thoroughly warmed up, because it can cause damage to the soft tissue due to the exaggerated range of movement. The principle of stretching is that little and often is best, so aim to perform the following stretches four or five times a week, holding each stretch for five to 10 seconds at a time.
Chin to chest (upper neck and nuchal ligament), Stand at his shoulder, holding the treat in front of his chest. Horse dip his head down between his legs. As his flexibility increases, bring the treat higher up his chest to develop more flexion high up the neck.
Chin to fetlock (over the withers and lower back). Stand at his girth and bring the treat between his front legs, encouraging him to bring his chin between his forelegs. To progress, take the treat further back towards his hindlegs.
Chin to shoulder (mid portion of the neck). Stand at his shoulder and encourage his neck around to the side, high up and away from his elbow.
Chin to stifle (base of the neck). Stand near his stifle and encourage his neck around to touch his stifle. Try to avoid allowing him to bend his legs, as this reduces the quality of the stretch.
Chin to hip (base of neck and rotation through upper neck). Stand alongside your horse and bring his head around towards the top of his pelvis. In order to touch the
top of his back, he'll need to be quite flexible.
Keeping him in tip-top shape can be hard in the winter, but with careful management, it's possible to maintain his flexibility. Use our top tips to keep him moving, active and flexible.
1. Feed hay from the floor so that it's as close to nature intended as possible. This will help him stretch through his topline and avoid neck strain.
2. Keep the amount of time he's stabled to a minimum so that his joints don't swell and he doesn't become stiff. If his diet needs to be restricted, consider non-grass turnout.
3. On cold days, use an exercise sheet when riding to ensure his muscles don't get too cold.
4. Avoid deep mud or frozen ground for both riding and turnout, to avoid straining joints and reduce the risk of injury.
5. If you've got a field shelter, consider using it instead of stabling your horse. This will allow him to move more freely and avoid becoming stiff and sore.
6. Keep him hydrated because dehydrated muscles are prone to cramp and tightness, which could lead to injury.
MY HORSE GOLDIE LIVES OUTSIDE ALL YEAR ROUND; NEVER KNOWN ANY OTHER WAY TO LIVE SINCE HER BIRTH - Keith Hunt
Your horse's diet plays aVITAL ROLE IN MAINTAINING HIS FLEXIBILITY…..
FACTORS SUCH AS DIET, LIFESTYLE, ENVIRONMENT AND WORK LOAD ALL IMPACT ON YOUR HORSE'S OVERALL HEALTH AND CONDITION.
HOWEVER THEIR ARE CERTAIN NUTRIENTS THAT CAN HELP….THE BETTER MUSCLE TONE HE HAS THE SUPERIOR FLEXIBILITY HE'LL BENEFIT FROM……ANOTHER WAY TO MAINTAIN YOUR HORSE'S FLEXIBILITY IS TO SUPPLEMENT HIS DIET WITH A TARGETED JOINT OR MOBILITY SUPPLEMENT. JOINT SUPPLEMENTS ARE DESIGNED TO SUPPORT JOINT HEALTH AND THIS IS PARTICULARLY IMPORTANT FOR SOME HORSES. THE MAIN ACTIVE INGREDIENTS TO LOOK OUT FOR WHEN FEEDING A JOINT SUPPLEMENT ARE….
KEEPING YOUR HORSE IN PERFECT BODY CONDITION WILL ALSO HELP KEEP HIM SUPPLE. AN OVERWEIGHT HORSE'S JOINTS, MUSCLES AND LIGAMENTS ARE UNDER MORE STRAIN THAN NECESSARY…..
I HAVE GIVEN MY HORSE GOLDIE MSM IN HER WINTER "SPECIAL MASH" FOR YEARS; I BELIEVE IT HAS PAYED OFF - Keith Hunt
Ridden or in-hand work
Flexibility is defined as the range of movement in a joint or group of joints and their ability to move effectively. This movement further requires adequate muscle strength and nervous control for balance and co-ordination. Exercises that target this combination of elements are ideal for promoting overall suppleness and flexibility.
Following the use of baited stretches to help with your horse's flexibility when he is standing still, exercises done while he's moving can be used to achieve a greater effect. The forces acting when he is moving are far larger, because his bodyweight and muscles are stretching the joints and soft tissues.
While the following exercises can be done under saddle, the addition of a rider's weight inherently creates some back muscle contractions and increased loading. For this reason, it can be a good idea to first start the dynamic exercises from the ground with your horse.
Throughout all these exercises, he should work with his head and neck in a lower, relaxed posture. If your horse is unable to do so, seek advice from your vet to rule out any health problems that could be making the exercises more difficult for him.
Exercise one - valley poles
Set up three ground poles at a trot distance for your horse. Raise these 20cm at one side only, alternating each side. Ensuring that your horse is working in an active, forward trot, ride over the poles from each direction.
Because the movement is non-habitual, it will require your horse to move more consciously, and increase the amount of active flexion and range of movement in his limbs. During this phase, your horse must use his core muscles to stabilize himself, and the differing heights of the poles help to improve his balance and co-ordination.
This exercise can be introduced unmounted at walk and slowly progressed. Increasing the height or number of the poles will make the exercise more difficult.
Additionally, it can also be completed with the poles set out in a fan. This will promote the movement of the shoulder blade across the chest wall of the outside forelimb and create a slight lateral bend through the neck.
Exercise two - repeated transitions
The way a horse's back moves in trot and canter is very different. By changing pace repeatedly, the joints and soft tissues of the spine are mobilized in different ranges. Ideally, this exercise should be performed on a slight uphill incline in a straight line. However, your horse needs to be quite well-conditioned to do this without strain. So, begin in an arena or on a flat surface until he's strong enough and, if needed, use poles along the long side to keep him straight.
Ride 10 steps of trot followed by five canter strides and repeat. Do this on both reins using both canter leads. This is ideal to do in a field along the fence line to help with straightness. Focus on the quality of the transition and your riding to achieve the desired outcome. Using an incline creates resistance through gravity. Your horse's hindquarters and back muscles have to put in more effort to build strength and power, as well as endurance. To progress this exercise, increase the gradient and number of transitions completed, and reduce the number of strides between transitions.
Exercise three - about-turn square
This exercise encourages the outside hindlimb and the inside forelimb to move away from the body as they move in a semicircle direction. This abduction movement helps to increase the lateral range of movement of the hip joint and the forelimb, as well as promoting muscle activity around the hip flexors, which is useful for creating a better degree of collection or mobility for rapid turns.
In walk, ride a 20-metre square around a center mark, making use of the track on the long sides only. Maintaining an active walk, ride a turn on the haunches to leave the track on the long side, ride across the school and ride a turn on the forehand to rejoin the track at the other long side. Continue walking and repeat to finish the full square. Repeat on both reins.
WHERE I BOARD MY HORSE WAY TOO MANY OWNERS DO NOT COME OUT ENOUGH TIMES IN THE WEEK TO EXERCISE THEIR HORSE. SECOND, WAY TOO MANY DO NOT WORK THEIR HORSE AT FASTER SPEEDS; FEW EVER GALLOP THEIR HORSE, AND YES THAT COULD BE BECAUSE THEY DO NOT HAVE THE SKILL TO GALLOP; EVEN SO WITH LOTS OF CANTERING [LOPING] AND GETTING YOUR HORSE INTO A SWEAT SOME TIMES, WILL HELP KEEP YOUR HORSE TRIME. OF COURSE SOME HORSES TEND TO JUST PUT ON WEIGHT MORE THAN OTHERS, THEN THE AMOUNT OF FEEDING HAS TO BE LOOKED AT. EVERY HORSE IS INDIVIDUAL, SO KEEPING HIM TRIM MUST BE LOOKED AT FROM A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE FOR THAT PARTICULAR HORSE - Keith Hunt