Science & Equine

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Written by Marly Coppens
Posted in Exercise therapy

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Stretching exercises for horses: Are they effective?

This review article aims to present the beneficial effects of stretching, like regaining proper balance, flexibility and proprioception. The effects on horses are similair to humans, however the importance of flexibility may be overseen by some verterinarians.

Stretching methods and effects

  1. Warm up the joints and muscles prior to exercise, by a warm compresses, deep massage, light walking or activity to stimulate blood circulation. This increases viscoelasticity in the muscles.
  2. Pre-exercise stretching seems most beneficial in preventing muscular injury by previous research. 15 minutes routine before activity was most effective.
  3. Post-exercise stretching supports cooling down and helps to reduce muscle fatigue and soreness, by decreasing lactic acid. It sets back range of motion after shortening due to repetitive and intense muscle activity.
  4. Post-operative or post-injury stretching, to regain tissue function or reduce scarring and adhesions.
  5. Optimal time for improved ROM is 10 to 30-second stretch.

Sport horses could use a regular stretching routine to prevent form injury, especially stalled horses. Since they do not have the opportunity to graze, flex, and extend joints through their range of motion or use all muscle groups throughout the day.

The image below shows two hind limb stretches
Left: Forward protraction stretch. The hamstring muscles (semitendinosus, semimembranosus and biceps femoris) extend and stretch. 
Right: Backward extension stretch. The quadriceps muscles (vastus medialis, rectus femoris, vastus intermedius and vastus lateralis) are stretched during this exercise. 

> A. Frick, Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, Vol 30, No 1 (2010). All rights reserved to 2010 Elsevier Inc. Click here for the J-EVS summary

Here you find some stretches explained by an equine physiotherapist

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