The therapeutic benefits of stretching are well known to all people, either athletes or in need of improving flexibility or simply looking for relaxation. Today, stretching exercises are part of any training or fitness exercise program, as well as part of physiotherapy or massage therapy programs. Because the physiological benefits of stretching upon the body are immediate, more and more people, regardless of age, are using stretching exercises at home or at play so in a natural way they contribute to their flexibility and overall fitness. Horses also instinctively know how to stretch, doing it spontaneously, continually and naturally, tuning up the muscles they need most.
Stretching exercises done passively are easily applied onto your horse. Performed on their own, stretching exercises will complement your training program. Done during or after a massage session, stretching’s multi benefits will render your massage work that much more efficient and lasting. Like massage, stretching greatly contributes to the reduction of overall muscle tension and muscle stiffness as well as induces relaxation of the nervous system.
Another benefit of stretching is that it increases the circulation of both blood and lymph fluids which in turn increases oxygenation and nutrition in the tissues. Applied right after your maintenance massage routine, stretching will further reinforce those benefits.
Also, regular application of stretching exercises will increase the elasticity of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, joint capsules and the flexibility and range of motion of the joints. The overall benefits of this practice will reduce the incidence of muscle strain and ligament sprain, improve coordination, stride length and reflex time response.
The busy training schedule of an athletic horse is causing a lot of undue stress, both physical and emotional. The physical stress of exercising, the workload, as well as travels and competitions, all will result in nervous fatigue and body tension. Equally at the same time, your horse’s personality and disposition, his fear, his anxiety and sometimes his boredom can add to his nervous stress. Stretching can really help with this aspect of your horse’s life. As you stretch your horse’s muscles, this process sends relaxation impulses via sensory nerves to the animal’s central nervous system, his brain, causing him to relax both physically and mentally. This is an important factor for nervously fatigued horses as well as the one who have been involved in accidents or are frightened or in pain.
Another great benefit of stretching is that it helps your horse develop “body awareness”. As you regularly stretch various body parts, you help your horse focus on them and become “mentally” in touch with them. This process contributes to your horse’s self-awareness, improving his coordination and locomotion. Coupled with your training, stretching can help you improve your horse’s gait.
learning stretching techniques
To help contribute to your horse’s overall health and fitness, the Animal Awareness video library offers you stretching techniques and a stretching exercise routine, which sole purpose is to relieve a horse’s overall fatigue in a quick and efficient way.
Also, Jean-Pierre Hourdebaigt in the chapter 8 of his book “Equine Massage, A Practical guide”* presents a solid foundation for learning proper application of equine stretching exercises. His massage awareness method teaches people who are actively involved in the life of their horse(s) how they can safely and efficiently care for their animal friend(s) with equine massage. This easily learned method enable you to, in a natural way, actively participate in the care, fitness and well being of your horse.
Be gentle and always assess your horse’s feedback signs (see chapter 2) as well as the feedback given by your finger tips (the 4 T’s listed in chapter 3).
From experience we recommend you apply the stretching exercise routine daily, after training or riding. This will greatly contribute to keeping the flexibility of your horse, shorten his recovery time as well as trigger a nice feeling of relaxation for your animal allowing him to feel more rested and more giving after exercise, travel, fatigue or other stresses. Along with massaging your horse, regular stretching will give you prime feedback on your horse health, flexibility and will result in a stronger bond between the two of you.
I hope you enjoyed this article and found the information useful. My goal is help you provide quality home care for the benefit of your animal.
Please visit our FREE library. Our many articles address important aspects of animal wellness and fitness. Take the time to scroll through our free library to find out how you can actively contribute to your horse’s wellness.
Animal Massage Awareness also offers a large video library with over a 100 mini-videos that will show you how to easily perform the various massage and stretching techniques talked about in this article, and more. These videos offer you the correct start and visual guidance. With this knowledge, you will be able to develop a good home care program for the benefit of your animal friend. He will love you for it.
Enjoy your new Awareness!
Jean-Pierre Hourdebaigt, MT
Recommended DVD Downloads
The “Stretching Exercises” (EV007) gives you visual guidance in the proper application of simple stretching exercises for your horse. Combined with either the “Relaxation Massage Routine” (EV004) or the “Full Body Massage Routine” (EV006), they will have a great relaxing benefit to your animal.