Stiff shoulders? Try these stretches

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.

Only stretch in a calm, quiet location.

Only stretch in a calm, quiet location.

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.

When stretching the legs, always support the pastern.

When stretching the legs, always support the pastern.

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.

When your horse relaxes into the stretch, it will feel like he's pressing into his heel (but not trying to put his foot down),

When your horse relaxes into the stretch, it will feel like he’s pressing into his heel (but not trying to put his foot down).

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.

Keep your fingers on the very tip of the toe.

Keep your fingers on the very tip of the toe.

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.

This is Moe's favourite stretch.

This is Moe’s favourite stretch.

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.

photo 2

This movement stretches the muscles along the top of the crest and over the wither.

Repeat all the stretches on your horse’s right side.

Have fun and let me know if you try these stretches for yourself!

12 thoughts on “Stiff shoulders? Try these stretches

    • Kiirsten you are ruining that wonderful horse riding him so much. Keep it up and poor Mojito will be crippled for life!

      • Angela, I can’t tell if you are serious or not. Do you really think I ride him too much? I think he has it pretty easy these days – he hasn’t been to a single show yet this summer.

  1. I know you caution to pull fingers out of quickly if your horse steps down, but i’ve had my finger steped on before from doing something very similar, I tried to pull it out but with no luck on one, the whole tip got stripped of it’s flesh, it was disgusting, I would strongly suggest that this the foot NEVER gets held in that manner. Just some food for thought, great stretches otherwise I will be trying them on one of mine.

    • It can definitely be a dangerous stretch. I find by balancing the toe on your fingertips, your horse is more likely to stretch down through his heel. But to mitigate risk, you could put your hand behind the fetlock instead.

  2. this looks really good and easy i have a horse sore ,but his foot and hoof looks good .the ferrier say it must be in the shoulder so i gonna try , i hope it helps. i let you know.

  3. Reblogged this on Prairie Nerd in Paddock Boots and commented:
    I wrote this post a few weeks ago for Dominion Vet Labs, and it has been incredibly popular. Read it for yourself and let me know what you think – do you find these stretches effective, and would you add anything to this routine?

  4. With regards to the stretch with the fingertips under the horse’s foot, I did this stretch with many horses when I was grooming in NZ- and it definitely works better if you can have your hand under their foot. What I found was the safest (as many horses do like to relax into the stretch, or put their hoof down fast) was doing all the stretches in their stall, on a bed of shavings or another soft bedding. This way if your fingers do get caught underneath, there is a very soft surface which won’t cause major injury to the finger upon impact. It is also easier to get your fingers out with this surface.

  5. Pingback: 3 common spring-training injuries | Dominion Veterinary Labs

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s