Should Your Horse Do Stretches?

There is a lot of horse information available regarding horse stretch and suppling exercises. There is nothing wrong with doing (gentle) stretches and suppleness exercises. But do you need to do them?

The short answer is no. You do not need to stretch your horse. Why not?

Because horse’s bodies are not built like humans. When we’re standing, for example, we use plenty of muscles to stand — back muscles, gluteal muscles, leg muscles, stomach muscles, and even neck muscles to hold our head up.

The horse, however, is built like a suspension bridge. When the horse is standing still, the only muscle used is the triceps muscle. That’s it. One muscle. Well, two. One tricep muscle on each side of the horse.

Other than the triceps, it takes no muscle for a horse to stand up. It takes no muscle for a horse to hold its head up. Due to the suspension bridge design, it takes muscle for the horse to bring its head down. It’s pretty amazing, really.

But this design explains why the horse can have 1000 lbs standing on four small feet. And then popping over four foot fences — just because the grass is greener over there.

Because the horse’s muscles are relaxed unless he or she is moving or grazing, there should be no “tight” muscles to stretch.

Therefore, in the ideal world, horses are “fit” to their work level (even 100 mile endurance!) and yet their muscles remain relaxed to the touch. You should be able to pick up any leg and circle it around gently with no resistance to any stretch. I have worked with many horses like this.

But what if your horse truly needs stretching?
The ideal stated above, in the real world there are plenty of horses with tight muscles. “Lumpy” butt muscles, tight hip muscles, tight shoulders, tight or “stringy” neck muscles are all common. Usually these horses enjoy massage (or other bodywork) and definitely benefit from it.

My point is that these tight and lumpy muscles are NOT “normal and to be expected” just from work. Tight (or lumpy or stringy or hard or banded) muscles in horses are symptoms of underlying problems.

Two most common causes of tight muscles in horses:
1) Chiropractic issues

2) Nutritional deficiencies

Chiropractic issues

Chiropractic subluxations are joints that are:

    • not functioning correctly and/or
    • hurt when you move them

Because these joints aren’t moving properly and/or are painful, the body protects them by tightening some muscles (and loosening others). This can result in “lumps” or “tight muscles” or “bands” or even “adhesions.”

It’s simple for you to check and see if your horse has chiropractic issues by doing Body Checkups. Body Checkup videos here.

Nutritional deficiencies

Imbalances in vitamins or minerals (macro or micro minerals) can cause tight (or lumpy, banded, stringy) muscles to develop. In particular, selenium, magnesium, calcium, zinc, Vitamin E —to name a few —are important for muscle function.

Selenium is the typical culprit in the United States. Click here for more selenium information.

 

But more important than gentle stretching is warm-up time. Be sure and warm-up your horse. A lot more than you think you should.
Please feel free to stretch your horse if you and/or your horse enjoy it. As long as you are slow and gentle, and don’t stretch farther than your horse is comfortable, there is no harm to it.

By the time we’ve gone out to catch our horse, groomed him, picked out his feet, saddled and bridled, we are warmed up. The horse has been standing still–and cooling down– the entire time. That’s why sometimes we think the horse is warmed up when he is not.

Warming up adequately is FAR more important to your horses muscles than stretching them.

 

For detailed massage and stretching tips, I recommend these books:

Recommended Stretch & Massage books for horses:

Beyond Horse Massage: A Breakthrough Innovative for Alleviating Soreness, Strain, and Tension by Jim Masterson

Horse Massage for Horse Owners: Improve Your Horse’s Health and Wellbeing