Moe was really stiff after jumping five days in a row at Heart of the Continent – Winnipeg’s biggest hunter/jumper event. The competition ended on Sunday August 4th, Moe got two days off, and we went for a hack on August 7th. He was lively and full of energy, but when we trotted around the big grass field behind the stable, it felt like his front legs couldn’t keep up with the drive coming from his back legs.
I trotted him out for my coach, and she said it looked like his shoulders were stiff. I certainly couldn’t blame him – I was feeling very stiff myself! Look at all the classes we competed in:
I used the following stretches every time I went out to ride, and after about five days, Moe was right as rain. I learned these stretches from a certified equine massage therapist. Try them for yourself!
Start by standing at your horse’s left shoulder, facing the same direction he’s facing. Place your right hand on his wither, and hook your right foot behind his left pastern. Lean against him to encourage him to shift his weight to his right leg, and use your foot to gently pull his his leg forward and out. Rotate it a small counter-clockwise circle. Try for three rotations.
Let your horse place his foot down. Next, ask him to pick up the same foot. Flex it completely, like you see veterinarians do for a soundness exam. With one hand on his cannon bone and one hand on his pastern, push the knee forward and up. Without rushing, try to push the leg as far as you can. Then let it come back to a neutral position. Do this three times.
Let your horse place his foot down. Next, stand facing him and ask him to pick up his foot. With one hand behind his pastern and two fingertips under the toe of his hoof, slowly stretch the leg toward you. You want him to bear down gently on that leg so it straightens completely. Moe is resistant to this stretch, and he will try to pull his hoof back. I keep a good hold on his pastern to prevent him from inadvertently striking his opposite knee. Be patient, and once you feel your horse lean into the stretch, gently place the hoof back on the ground and praise him.
CAUTION: Some horses may try to step forward onto the suspended leg, so make sure you can quickly get your fingers out of the way if need be.
Now that your horse has tolerated all this manipulation of his front legs, it’s time to reward him with some fun and simple carrot stretches. Stand at his barrel and use a carrot to lure his nose around as far as it will go. Once he holds it there for a moment, give him the carrot and praise him. If he takes a step to move toward you, stop and try again.
Next, squat down hear your horse’s front legs and use a carrot to lure his nose down between his knees. Don’t let him back up. Once he’s held his nose between his knees for a moment, give him the carrot and praise him.
Repeat all the stretches on your horse’s right side.
Have fun and let me know if you try these stretches for yourself!