Don’t Just Warm Up Your Horse
As most know, it is very important to warm up our horses before starting a workout. Just as humans, they too can tear or strain cold muscles. Warming up gives the joints time to properly lubricate and increase circulation to warm up muscles. Although our feet are not making the steps we are still working hard and need to do our part in taking care of our bodies. In this post I will give you some ideas of some simple stretches to do right from your horses back while they are enjoying a free walk. These stretches should not consume more than a lap or two of your warm up walk.
Stretch #1: Shoulder and Rib Cage
Place the reins in the left hand with a loose contact. With your right hand, reach up your horse’s neck toward his ears and feel the stretch through the latissimus (lats). Now raise the arm straight over head, rotate it past your ear, rotating through the rib cage to place your hand on your horse’s croup (top of the rump). Slowly rotate the rib cage with deep breaths. On the exhale add more rotation. Slowly lift the straight arm back past your ear to the horse’s neck. Switch the reins to the right hand and repeat on the left side. I like to do this at least two times on each side.
Stretch #2: Neck Movement
Part A: Tuck the chin towards the base of the neck and feel the stretch all the way down to the tail bone.
Part B: Raise the chin up, as if to feel the sun on your face. Do not put strain on your neck by throwing your head backwards. Allow the front of your body to feel the stretch.
Part C: With your chin parallel to the ground rotate your head to the left, so your chin is over your left shoulder. Hold it to the count of 10 and then slowly rotate your chin over your right shoulder.
Part D: Pretending you have a marker on the tip of your nose and imagine drawing a large slow circle in both directions.
Stretch #3: Releasing the Jaw
Stick your tongue straight out for just a moment. Bring the tongue back into your mouth and move it in a circular motion. Start on your upper lip, to the right cheek, the lower lip, the left cheek, and back to the top lip. Repeat in the other direction. Once you have done two or three circle in each direction move your jaw side to side and back and forth a couple of times.
Stretch #4: Letting Leg Tension Go
Part A: Drop your stirrups allowing your legs to hang straight down. Think about plugging your seat bones into your saddle and allowing your gluteus maximus fill the back of the saddle (keep your pelvis directly under you, don’t stick your gluteus maximus out). One at a time pull each heel up to your gluteus and hold it for a few seconds. Slowly release it back down and repeat on the other side. I like to pull up each heel a couple of times.
Part B: One at a time keep your leg straight and pull it up towards your horse’s shoulder. Hold it for a few seconds and then slowly release it back down.
Part C: Take both legs and hold them straight out from the side of the horse at the same time; kind of like you are trying to do the splits parallel to your shoulders. Hold this for a few seconds and repeat a couple of times.
These four simple stretches can open your mind as to where you may be hiding your tension. If you have tension in your body it will become tension in your horse’s body. An example would be holding tension in your right rib cage, you may see it in your horse with resistance to bend to the right and softening his shoulder. Let’s say you have tension in your left lower back and its causing you to sit heavy in that seat bone. Odds are you will see tension in the horses lower back, preventing the horse from relaxing and stretching over his top line.
We then have the obvious reasons as to why we would want to do these quick four stretches, which would be to increase circulation to your muscles and increase the lubrication to your joints. If you are able to find the perfect center of balance (cannot have tension in the body) it allows you to use your aids with easy and flexibility.
**Disclaimer: While doing these stretches it is ideal to have your horse at a free walk. This is something you will need to work on with your horse to get him comfortable with you moving around oddly on his back and pulling your legs up his sides. Make sure your horse is in a calm state and then slowly begin introducing him to this new routine.
***Safety first, always wear a helmet! We can’t be friends if you are a vegetable.***