The Benefits of Carrot Stretches
We often see our horses scratching themselves but there is a benefit to asking horses to perform these moves on request. I frequently recommend carrot stretches as homework for my clients to do with their horses but what is the purposes of these stretches and how should you do them correctly?
It is important that a horse stretches its spine correctly and frequently to help activate all the small muscles that stabilise the spinal column to help prevents them becoming wasted and asymmetrical.
Firstly the handler must not force a stretch upon their horse, but allow the horse to use its own muscles in order to feel the full benefit of the exercise. Secondly, it is important to realise that most horses will find stretching easier one way in comparison to the other. This is one of the ways that carrot stretches can be used as a tool to assess flexibility and highlight any areas that need work. And thirdly, only ask the horse to stretch as far as it is comfortable so that their ears remain level. If they are twisting their head or stepping away you are asking too much and need to step it back a notch. Each stretch should be slow and steady and ask your horse to hold the stretch for a few seconds before relaxing.
The first set of stretches extend the spine by contacting the abdominal muscles and flexing the neck.
Using a carrot or favourite treat first ask your horse bring his chin to his chest, relax, bring his chin between his knees, relax, then bring his chin between his fetlocks. Start by encouraging the horse to aim for the point and when flexibility improves then begin to ask to movement beyond the point.
The second set of stretches are lateral bending exercises which are useful for highlighting asymmetry. First bring the horses chin to his girth, then relax, then towards his flank, then relax, then towards his hind fetlock. You much make sure your horses ears stay level so he isn't overreaching. Any stiffness and asymmetry should be noted and brought to the attention of your therapist, vet and saddle fitter but hopefully with time flexibility should improve.
These are fab exercises and the end result is an improvement in flexibility, symmetry, balance and strength. A happy horse and a happy rider.