Updated: Apr 13, 2020
Cookie stretches can enhance vertebral joint range of motion, improve core strength and promote overall flexibility. A cookie can be used to guide the horse through the exercise and reward them when it is performed correctly. The following information will depict several effective stretches as well as contain advice to help you guide your horse through the stretches correctly!
Before we begin, it is extremely important to note that stretching is most effective on warm muscles. Stretching cold muscles can increase the risk of injury or hyperextension. After a workout or massage is prime time to give those muscles a little extra TLC!
Stretching your horse requires patience, especially if your horse has never performed stretches before. Remember to work slowly through each movement and to not encourage your horse to move past their current range of motion. The goal is to slowly, and over time, increase their overall range of motion. If you ask too much at once these exercises will be completely counter-productive. Only hold stretches 3-4 times for 10-15 seconds.
Here are a few handler safety tips to keep in mind:
• Stay close to the horse while completing the exercises.
• Identify and stay away from the “kick zones”.
• Identify a clear path of movement away from your horse should they become unbalanced.
• Make sure your horse is relaxed. Do not try to work with an anxious horse or try to move quickly through the stretches.
• Do not tie your horse while stretching.
Stand near, and facing away from, your horse's shoulder and entice them with the cookie to gently bend around you towards the girth area. Your horse should bend fluidly with as little as possible rotation in the head. As their dexterity improves, you can stretch them towards their hips and down towards their fetlocks as well!
Note: Make sure to stretch both the left and ride side. You may find that your horse is considerably tighter on one side. That is normal! Stay consistent and it may improve.
Neck Extension Stretch:
Stand in front of your horse facing towards them. Use a cookie to encourage your horse to extend their neck out long and upwards. Think of a giraffe trying to reach a leaf on a tree! Use the cookie to have the horse stretch towards your head and then as high as your hand can reach.
Stand near your horse’s girth area facing towards them. Use the cookie to encourage your horse to stretch down to his chest, knee and towards their fetlocks. Hold the stretch in each zone for 10-15 seconds. As your horse becomes more flexible use the cookie the encourage them to stretch between their knees. This is a big yummy stretch so take your time with it!
Stand near your horse’s elbow. Make sure you are out of any kick zones as some horses are rather ticklish on their tummy area and may try to swat at you. Use your fingers to gentle apply pressure to the sternum (bottom of the girth area). Your horse will respond by using their abdominals to lift upwards and flex their back. If you find your horse isn’t responding try using a bit more pressure until you achieve the desired result.
Stand near your horses hindquarters (but not directly behind them). Place your hands near the base of the horses tail and on either side of their spine. Using a gentle squeeze, encourage your horse to flex their hind end resulting in a rounded back. If you find your horse doesn’t respond then gradually increase the pressure used until the desired result is achieved. Your horse should flex their hind end gradually and not suddenly. A sudden vigorous movement is counter-productive.
There you have it! These are some easy stretches that any horse owner can complete. Have fun, take it slow and never push your horse past their comfort point. With consistency you will see an improvement in your horses overall flexibility.
*Disclaimer: These stretches are not intended to replace proper veterinary care or bodywork provided by qualified professionals.