'Healthy Happy Horses, Naturally' with Catherine Bird

Posts tagged ‘Catherine Bird’

Each horse needs a unique approach

How you approach the management of your horse’s health depends very much on individual filters. Every situation requires individual assessment.

For example, I may get two requests for a supportive program for a horse with laminitis.

Horse 1 is in extreme pain and under the care of veterinarian as well as a hoofcare specialist. The herbs I suggest to support the healing process need to complement and not be in opposition to the prescribed veterinary care. To philosophically insist that all veterinary prescriptions be ceased and the horse wholly rely on herbs and essential oils could challenge the owner’s mental wellbeing, and the owner’s stress would undermine the effectiveness of the program I am asking them to adhere to. For this horse it is best to work with what is in place.

Horse 2 may have chronic laminitis that the owner has been managing but needs advice on a sudden acute flare up of the condition. With this owner, as they have a higher level of trust in natural therapies so supporting them rely on herbs with the caveat that they have their veterinarian on standby if required, is empowering for them. For this owner to be completely reliant on pharmaceutical drugs for recovery could cause distress and their concerns could block the effectiveness of both the drugs and herbs.

Drugs and herbs do not need to be exclusive of the other, and the best approach on the day is the one that supports both the horse and owner in a way they can experience the least amount of stress and feel safe in their decisions.

In some countries, owners will not have a choice. It is legislation that determines who can assist the horse.

With ongoing chronic issues such as arthritic joints, herbs and essential oils, homeopathics and bodywork are much easier on the horse and body systems. Then if there is an injury or a painful flare up of the condition your veterinarian can intervene and once the nasty aspects are manageable again you can resume ‘naturally’. This is having the best of both approaches.

The same occurs with parasites. Over the years we have overused or used the wrong worming products. No single approach can guarantee you the best coverage with parasite management. However, sensible practices can limit the reliance on drugs. Using herbs that make the gut less hospitable to worms, then checking the worm count before worming helps in reducing the frequency you worm and to select the most effective product, when needed.

Stomach ulcers can be managed with natural products but if a stressful event causes a flare up a return to the proprietary product the horse has previously been responsive to can help restore a balance and then herbal maintenance can resume mending and strengthening. Using nervine you are supporting and strengthening the nervous system so that the horse is less and less reactive the stressors, and with time the gut is less irritated and you no longer need the herbs or the products.

Endocrine issues can be difficult to work with as once the horse is on a pharmaceutical product that regulates reproductive cycles or endocrine diseases, the herbs that would be appropriate could clash within the body with these medications and these are medications that need veterinarian supervision if discontinuing. The pharmaceutical approach is not completely exclusive as to what herbs you can use to support secondary issues, but you have to be very careful what herbs you do choose.

With the competition horse prohibited substances and the possibility of herbs and essential oils testing positive or being deemed unsportsmanlike, the competitor has to rely on substances that have a defined withholding period so as not to be disciplined or affect their professional reputation. With herbs available information is anecdotal not reliable, and even with available drugs the studies have been conducted on small numbers of horses, but at least documented for veterinarians to rely on.

Pharmaceutical companies are investing less in acute relief and focusing on the chronic conditions where they get more of a financial return for their research dollar. Bacterial strains becoming resistant to current antibiotics and fewer new antibiotic products being developed means strengthening the immune system with herbs is a sensible approach for both human and horse.

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Simple ‘preventatives’ can assist. One favourite for horses is to attach an Aromawearable tag to their collar so that they inhale immune system enhancing or digestive essential oils with their evening feed. Or for the nervous agitated horse travelling home with a tag impregnated with calming aromatherapy. Both options have the horse more settled and less vulnerable to physical issues.

 

It is a juggle between which approaches to take, what is important to remember is that both are appropriate if you understand and consider all options so that you can sensibly decide what is best with you and your horse.

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Positive aromatherapy responses from horses

After a recent visit to a regular centre in Wyee – I received this photo from the human that belongs to Girsh.

Girsh - smiling for the camera during a positive response to his essential oils during a recent aromatherapy session.

Girsh – smiling for the camera during a positive response to his essential oils during a recent aromatherapy session.

When first discovering essential oils for use with horses, it can be tricky deciding if your horse likes an aroma – hopefully from the archives of a class session I presented at Orange TAFE in 2007 you will gain some insights. Even on a day where it had snowed the day before, we were able to elicit a variety of responses that will help the reader see a sample of what could be expected.

Orange TAFE on a very cold July in 2007:

Yes please

Yes please

 

 

 

Ideally, the essential oil bottle is held a little further from the nostril and wafted across both nostrils.

 

Moving the uncapped bottle away from our ‘Maybe’ friend would help to determine if he really likes the aroma – if he stretches further forward – take that as a positive.

Maybe

Maybe

May I have some more

May I have some more

With the “May I have some more response” – this is a good distance to hold the bottle from the nostril.

 

Some horses will just hang out with the aroma – you will notice a softening of the eye, and often appearing zoned out.

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Ahhhhhh I like this one

I'm back for more

I’m back for more

 

 

 

Just be careful that your horse does not try to grab hold of the bottle in his mouth.

 

 

 

What I have learnt from massaging horses

Easter is a time of reflection for when I give thanks and review my world.

 
I wrote this article over a decade ago and I am learning from each horse (and most humans) in my life.  The humans who belonged to these horses are still friends and I thank them for allowing me into their special  ‘horse space’. I will add the caveat that these were my experiences and reflections and are quite personal at the time.
 
This Easter’s gratitude is for accepting that I do not know everything  –  Each horse/human interaction brings its own unique dynamic and sometimes  my contribution brings a sudden change while other times I may only be one aspect of what is needed.
 
The one thing guaranteed is that I learn something – sometimes I gain a huge realisation, other times a simple interaction may add to an ongoing life lesson.
 
I haven’t edited this article as it also contains some fond memories, and I invite you to revisit them with me.
 
 
 

What I Am Learning …..

We often discuss what we do with horses, how we ride or train them and what we can do for them. But how many of us realize what our horses have taught us?

The more I work with horses the more I discover about myself. Sometimes they teach me a way they like to be massaged, sometimes they guide me to where they are hurting, other times they show me how I can let go of judgement and criticism, learn acceptance, to see my own limitations and to understand what it is to love unconditionally.

Angus

Angus

Angus

Angus was a police horse that had been carried 60 meters on the front of a stolen car before he fell to the ground. I volunteered to massage him while he recovered. That was the beginning of my four-year journey with Angus.

The life of a police horse is not an easy one. Living in the city, patrolling on asphalt roads, performing in musical rides. Angus was a favorite amongst the officers and often gave beyond what was acceptable. He just kept giving whenever asked.

One of the most valuable gifts Angus gave me was to be able to discern how I judged people. He was pleasant to everyone, and accepted everyone in whatever space they were in. I could turn up feeling sad or happy and he would simply respond to whatever space I was in and just allow me to work through whatever my issue was for the day.

Caleb

Caleb is a pony Arab stallion. He is also the horse I learnt to canter on again in my adult life. He taught me the value of balance – balance of the mind as well as the body.

If I was too extreme in any emotion he would soon level me out, or I had a dreadful ride. If my body was not riding evenly it would reflect in his body when I gave him a thank you massage after his ride.

He displayed balance in both his body and mind. He would respond intelligently to all of my requests; he was always responsive. He never over-reacted to an incorrect aid or when I was massaging him and I found a sore place, his response was always polite and he never over reacted or suppressed his response.

Interestingly, if I was allowing unreasonable emotions to govern a situation in my life, my canter was often off balance when I rode on this horse.

When I find my emotions are displaying an over reaction, I can reflect on Caleb, and often just bringing him into my awareness helps me to regain a balanced approach to any problem.

Cinta

Cinta was a grey mare, breed and history unknown and quite possibly from an abused life before finding her way to the stables I massaged at regularly to practice my skills as my business was building up.

Cinta was the charge of a teenage girl. She would come to the stables to unleash her frustrations from her final years of high school, and unfortunately Cinta was the ‘object’ for this release.

She was ridden frantically and in an unsafe manner, she would be slapped harshly if she moved when being braided and she had to weather the moods and whims of a teenager prone to temper tantrums.

Through all of this Cinta remained steadfast. She showed to me an inner strength that remained solid. It was as if no matter what happened to her, past or present, she knew herself and what her life was all about.

When I feel life gets all too much for me, Cinta’s memory recalls, reminding me that I am strong enough to withstand any adversity I may ever meet in life. It reminds me to have faith in myself and to just keep on going as “this too will pass”.

You will be pleased to know Cinta’s human grew up and developed into a horsewoman in her own right.

Spring

Spring and I after an amazing clinic with Mark Rashid

Spring and I after an amazing clinic with Mark Rashid

Spring was an adorable and sensitive thoroughbred gelding not long off the track. His owner arrived at a training clinic with him as my loan horse, and I was nervous. Not only was I to ride a horse I had not ridden before, but I was to do it in front of almost fifty auditors.

The clinic was to teach the rider to recognize the offer and to learn to feel when a horse was giving or in a space to be able to give. Spring gave me the opportunity to improve my timing. Not only in my riding, but in my everyday life.

He showed me when I got anxious, all that would happen would be that we walked backwards. When I became focused on my goals, there was no faulting my forward motion. He taught me how my emotions have substance and how if they get out of control they can create obstacles in my life.

If life gets that roller-coaster feeling, I think of my weekend with Spring. I remember how I felt when I was anxious and walking backwards and then I take my memory forward to where, by the end of the clinic, I was riding in an easy collected frame to the applause of the crowd. By recalling this feeling and gift Spring gave me, I then harness that feeling to get my life over the anxieties I perceived to be in my way and I simply overcome them and tackle my new challenge.

Skeeta

Skeeta was a thoroughbred gelding who had spent several years going around the show-jumping circuit. A regular client who was preparing him for the owner to sell called me out to massage him.

He had a valuable lesson for me on this day. Often as therapists we want to help someone or a horse and we sympathize with them, and when we do this we are not always detached emotionally. It is preferable that we feel empathy for our ‘client’.

By sympathizing we often take on the pain the animal is feeling and this day I was wide open. As I massaged him the client talked about the life Skeeta had had. It was alarming and as she described his ‘hard’ life I began to feel pain in my body. Then suddenly as the client mentioned an incident I went in my mind, “oh you poor thing”. Well that opened me up completely and I doubled over with pain in stomach.

I had broken the therapist’s golden rule and had not remained in the detached caring role. I managed to finish the massage, excused myself and attempted to drive down the freeway. The pain became so intense I had to pull over to the side of the road while I cleared and healed this horse’s past.

Skeeta gave me the opportunity to feel what sort of pain he had experienced and to also understand that I could not help him if I simply took that pain on myself. He helped me realize that the greatest gift I could give anyone when they were in pain was to empathize, but to sympathize was to both our detriments.

The list goes on …

I suppose every horse I have ridden, massaged or simply observed has offered me more of an understanding of myself.

Not only have they given me opportunities to address my own failings or to learn about patterns that sabotage my development in life, they have also given me an opportunity to see myself with qualities I can admire and accept.

Red

Red - my favourite

Red – my favourite

 

Red is the first horse I practiced massage techniques on regularly, and he was also the first horse that I trusted enough to get me riding again.

No matter what I am wearing, how I am feeling, if my hair has been done or I am just looking like I have slept on the park bench the night before, he is affectionate and accepting of me. Now I can visit and he is always ready to nuzzle or want a scratch. When I have the opportunity to ride him he is always willing to guide me safely around the park. Centennial Park in Sydney can be hazardous often with film crews, tourists, dogs and oh yes, cyclists who forget horses have the right of way in the city. If I want to step up to another stride or movement he makes every attempt to teach me how I should ask and still does it when I ask the wrong way. Mind you he lets me know if I have given the wrong instruction with a flick of his tail to just give a hint of frustration with me.

He has accepted me when I have hated the world and he has accepted me with tears falling down my face. He accepts me if I walk by his stable and just say hi and he accepts me if I come to massage him. He accepts me if I have a treat or if I don’t.

Through his acceptance of me, I learnt to accept myself.

I believe if my life was void of horses, it would be hollow and without substance. What they have brought to it has enhanced every aspect of my life and they have proven to be my greatest teachers. Sometimes the most challenging horses have taught me the most, and I have to admit to not always being a willing student.

 First published Volume 3 Issue 3 – 2001 Natural Horse Magazine, written by Catherine Bird
 
 

Herbs, Oils and a Pinch of Love

Catherine BirdOur horses become a very special part of our lives. With the speeding up of time we are busy rushing here and there, looking for quick fixes and generally compounding any issue we have in our lives due to our own haste. When we start to look within and spend quality time with our horses, the insights we can learn from them can open up a new exploration of the world around us.One way to take time is to look at how we can work with our horses naturally. With domestication and our hectic routines our horses are close to losing touch with their ancient roots. We can reintroduce into their lives a selection of herbs and aromas from essential oils that will help all of us get back to a natural state of being.

Herbs

Herbs can be traced back to their use with several American Indian tribes and the Romani Gypsies of Europe. Both these cultures had accomplished horsemen and women who combined their training methods with the use of herbs. Even using herbs can be seen in the works of Xenophon in his book The Art of Horsemanship where is notes the importance of adding herbs to horses bran of an evening.

The use of herbs for me conjures up a romantic image, of times gone by where we were more connected with the earth, and its cycles. When I read veterinary or stock care books from the 1880s their training methods were severe. I tend to wonder if it was because the natural products they relied upon in these texts contributed to the horses behaviour so severe handling was needed. The use of opium and cannabis-based products was high.

Today the herbalists avoid herbs such as these or those that require a more than heroic effect to endure so one heals. The use of cathartic or purgative herbs is limited and rarely used with horses. We have gone back to the use of gentle herbs, when used wisely are unlikely to have adverse effects.

These are quite often the herbs that you would find growing across paddocks or along roadsides. Where in the past horses that had free-range of a healthy grassed paddock could graze upon if the need arose. These days to get the benefit of herbs we need to supplement. You dont necessarily have to give your horse buckets full of herbs to get this benefit, often a combination of cut and sifted herbs can have an effect within the body in cupful doses. If the herbs are powdered you may not need to use more than two tablespoons to help the body heal itself.

Aromatherapy

With many of our horses being stabled and not able to get out often due to our land restriction, essential oils can bring a touch of brain sunshine into their lives.

Aromatherapy is a relatively new therapy. The use of essential oils can be documented throughout the ages, but its modern application is less than one hundred years. The beauty of aromatherapy is your horse can assist you with the selection of what he considers is most appropriate.

Essentials have a special quality where they can act on the body when inhaled. Some of the constituents can then enter the bloodstream via the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract and the scent can be read by the olfactory receptors, which in turn has a cascade effect throughout the body. Emotions and memories can be accessed that have been stored within the limbic system and neurochemicals get releases through out the body to help instil a state of wellbeing.

When using aromatherapy with your horse, you also gain the benefits from inhaling the essential oils that your horse selects while using them with him or her. That way if some of the emotional issues your horse needs to clear from his body belong to you, you are less likely to regenerated that particular tone and keep stocking him up with your imbalances.

The Pinch of Love

These therapies are useful in their own right, however when they are done with love and intention the increased effect can be ten-fold.

There is an energetic interaction between a horse and their human. The day to day working together sees an interesting mingling of energies. Over the years the original use of the horse to help us plough our fields, fight our wars, and even provide us with a meal has no longer been needed. However the genetic memory held in his body triggers him into being of service to us in some way.

This unconditional love sees him often take on the energy of our illnesses or emotional and mental imbalances and if we are wise enough to spot when an issue is truly ours and take responsibility for it and address it, then our horse has served us and can heal.

In a way when we take the time to help him with herbs and essential oils the act of caring for our horses with natural means completes the cycle.

This does not mean that herbs and essential oils replace veterinarian care. They simply give the owner and the horse is more intimate way of relating and accessing a healing on a deeper level. I tend to prefer that veterinarian care be administered first to deal with what has developed in the physical body safely and with supervision. Then once the process has began then introduce the herbs and essential oils to facilitate healing on the mental and emotional levels so the physical manifestation is less likely to develop again.

 

written by Catherine Bird

Stretches for Your Horse

Sometimes a simple stretch can help your horse with a movement that may be a bit ‘sticky’.

Simple stretches can assist your horse with movement

Simple stretches can assist your horse with movement

Before you stretch your horse, warm the muscles. You can do this by walking your horse for ten minutes, or massage the area you intend to stretch. Ensure your horse is squared up behind and on balanced ground before picking up the foreleg. It is important your horse relaxes into the stretches because if he tenses you will find it difficult to achieve the desired results.

Your stretches should always be slow and gently moving into a slight resistance. Do not tie a horse for these stretches, having a handler is better so they can also guide your direction and help the horse keep his balance. A handler will help you stretch your horse in his natural line of movement. As a guide, begin with a 10 second hold when stretching your horse, as your horse gets used to being stretched you can extend this to 15 seconds, eventually as he accepts the stretch hold for 30 seconds. Keep the stretches short in durations and small in size to begin with.

Stretches to Help the Front End and Foreleg

Girth stretch

Begin by picking your horse’s leg up as if you were going to clean out his feet, gently support his fetlock in one hand and do small circles or give the leg a light jiggle to help him relax. Then have your inside hand come in between his front legs and rest your hand above the knee behind the fold. Stand up straight and let his knee rest against your inside knee, meet his resistance, take a breath and then take up the slack towards your belly. Hold the limb for the required time and if the horse wants to stand down on you, raise the knee slightly. Ideally the radial and ulna bones are parallel to the ground. When you are first teaching your horse you may want to give him a break by returning his leg to the ground between each stretch. As he learns what you are asking of him you can do three gentle stretches in one session. When a horse is restricted in his movement here he may become resentful when being saddled, and if the deeper pectoral muscles has become tense and painful it can appear as heaviness or to be on the forehand.

Elbow Stretch

You can then continue into a triceps or shoulder flexor stretch by cradling your arms behind the knee and gently lift upwards until you meet his slight resistance, as he relaxes you can lift slightly higher to complete the stretch. The triceps is a three-headed muscle with three places of origin that work in combination to extend the elbow joint, flex the shoulder during its swing phase of the stride and also play an important part in stabalising the forelimb.

Return to the beginning of the girth stretch position and then step to the side of the horse and towards his tail and rest his knee against your thigh/hip is resting on the radial and ulna bone, ease your hip towards his chest and again meet the resistance and take up the slack, this stretch is good for the lateral muscles, especially for the horse just beginning to learn lateral movements.

Whenever stretching your horse’s legs, do not fully extend the leg. You do not want to hyperextend any joints. You may have noticed your veterinarian stretch your horse’s foreleg out fully, this is not a stretch for you to perform because the leg is not able to be moved into a stretch affectively. Your veterinarian is doing this for diagnostic purposes. It can also teach your horse to bear down on you with his weight.

Shoulder Stretch

One of my favourite stretches assists the biceps brachii that branches over the point of shoulder. Pick up the foreleg and have the fetlock resting in your hand, this hand is simply to support the leg. Make sure the cannon bone is parallel to the ground and avoid closing the limb any further so as not to over flex. Let the leg relax and bring your hand in front and above the knee and gently guide it back towards his rear.

When a horse is restricted here the biceps brachii in conjunction with the brachialis muscle is not able to lift the foreleg forward while flexing the elbow, I often find horses with limited extension respond to this stretch. These stretches are simple and can be added to your weekly routine. I often recommend to clients stretch a body area once a week. Each session includes a series of stretches such as those above, and you only need to do three (3) of each stretch in a session to help your horse’s muscles.

Never force your horse to do any of the stretches, you simply meet the resistance of the muscle and guide the muscle to open up to your request. This will achieve more results than a ‘yank’ or forced move. If your horse continues to resist a particular stretch you may need a specialist bodywork therapist or your veterinarian to assess your horse’s muscles in this area.

Stretches For Your Horse’s Back

From some point in history, man looked at the shape of the horse’s back and decided to sit on it. It is, after all, a particularly inviting shape, a sensual shape, a shape that is unique in the animal kingdom ~ Sarah Wyche

Your horse’s back can become sore if he has slipped, caught his hip on a gate latch, pulling back on a lead rope when tied, been cast in his box, pulled his leg through a fence, ridden over a change of surfaces, had an accident in a float, or suffered from poor shoeing or an ill fitting saddle. There are a number of signs to look for to indicate if your horse’s back may be sore.

Your horse may not want to move straight along the long side of the arena, he may become unbalanced in the canter, be unable to change diagonals easily at the trot on a circle, may go wide when asked to lengthen at the trot, have difficulty walking in a straight line down an incline, unable to track up, unwilling to lower his head and accept the bit. You as a rider may feel a loss of contact with one side of your seat, tension in your horse’s back or feel like you are riding ‘downhill’, feel twisted in the saddle or one of your stirrups feels longer than the other when it isn’t. Also consider your horse’s back is sore if your back is sore after riding.

Flexing the Back

Rock the horse gently with your hands over the spine to start to relax your horse’s back. With this stretch we are assessing where there may be resistance to bending his back in either direction. The muscles you are targeting here are the para spinal muscles by encouraging contraction in the opposite side of the spine using our fingers in a crescent stretch. Rock the horse to use the momentum. Lay the pads of your fingers on the opposite side pressing gently to get a contraction on that side and have him bend around your fingers.

This will give you a stretch in the muscles on the side you are on and also give you an indication if there is any muscle spasm causing your horse discomforted if the contraction under your fingers is resistant.

Lifting the Back

Use both sides with your hands close together with your arms close to your sides and your knees bent. Place your fingers pointing up and along the midline beginning just below the elbow and run your hands back to where the texture of the coat changes. Stand up holding as he lifts his back and try to make him lift his back in a slow controlled manner. Then hold for ten seconds. Then tickle him just behind the wither so he drops his back again and repeat the stretch. I find three belly stretches from each side of his body helps with the strengthening and development of the longissimus dorsi muscle.

The longissimus muscle connects the sacrum to the wither and runs the length of the back. This muscle helps stabilise the spine during movement and allows the limbs to swing through the phases of contraction and retraction. This muscle needs to be strong, yet subtle, so the rider is able to bring the forward movement from the hindquarters through to the neck.

The intention with these stretches is not to manipulate, they are to increase the range of mobility and have a horse able to carry you with ease. If your horse’s sore back or riding issues persists, please consult a professional.

Your veterinarian, saddle fitter, or body worker will be able to assist you. The longer an issue has been within the body, the more time you need to address the muscles. A soreness that has been present for a week will melt away almost immediately, but one that has been there for months or years will need to peeled away a layer at a time. For any stretches of the back make sure all your horse’s legs are square. This way you will be able to target the muscle groups you desire with ease.

Keeping Flexibility in the Neck and Poll

The horse’s neck is his main balancing mechanism. The horse often goes into co- contraction as a protection against loss of balance, and in doing so may create tightness in his neck that does not relax when he does. This can affect your carriage when asking for your horse to come onto the bit, and if long term in its nature, the ability of your horse to collect and come through from behind.

As a rider you may notice your horse is resistant to flexions of the poll and neck, your horse may not ‘settle down and feel like he is jarring in the front, become defensive to your hands, or develop limited extension as the trapezius and rhomboids tighten in response to the tension in the neck. When you are ready to stretch the neck, it is preferable that your horse has a relaxed neck.

Do not force any of these stretches. A simple technique to relax the neck is called jostling. This technique involves cupping your hands over the crest of your horse, placing your thumbs at right angles, and then rolling the crest towards your thumbs. This can be done with a light pressure to begin with, and can become a stretch in its own action if held where you find any resistance.

Opening the Poll

Place one of your hands over the poll to stabilise the joint before your begins and one hand underneath the chin where it is comfortable for the horse. Keeping your arms close to your body for support lift the chin hand to relax in a rocking motion.

You will feel him give and relax. It is important your horse is relaxed for this stretch so once he is go and stand in front of him and move the curve of his chin on to your shoulder.

Place the one hand behind the poll and ears and the other on the halter to keep his head from swinging into you. Once he gives his weight, encourage him to extend his nose by leaning away from him, this will have him lowering his poll and neck.

You may have to step back to accommodate the movement. This is a wonderful stretch for the poll flexors and the ventral neck muscles. It is like giving your horse a big hug and I find it very effective when I am massaging a horse that is tight in the poll.

Carrot Stretches

Using a carrot as the target is not ideal but sometimes unavoidable when teaching a horse a new stretch. The horse tends to give you a ballistic contraction rather than a slow controlled stretch. If you practice these stretches often, you will find your horse will do them willingly for a scratch or tickle.

To stretch the neck to the side it is easier to do the nose to barrel stretch with someone acting as a wall or against a wall so the horse can’t swing out. Place your back and shoulders against his so he has to move his neck out further first and then around you to the carrot. Place one hand on the halter and guide him to the carrot. Hold for the desired time. Then wait to give him the reward after his stretch when his head comes back to the front. (Chewing with your head to the side is uncomfortable and if your horse eats the carrot in the stretch he will also be uncomfortable.)

To stretch your horse’s neck and back you can ask the horses nose to come to the ground. Place the carrot between the legs below the knees and ask him to reach through, if he steps back he has not completed the stretch so do not reward him and ask him to do it again.

As well as getting him to touch low in front of his legs you can also ask for a lateral stretch where you place the carrot on the outside of his cannon bone or as he becomes more flexible the outside edge of his hoof. It is very important with this should be placed well below the knee, if you ask your horse to reach between his legs above the knee you may risk doing damage to the vertebral column. With these carrot stretches, two or three times in each session is sufficient and make sure you work side to side when stretching the neck. This is more effectively than one side only.

If you use stretches in your weekly routine with your horse you will assist him to give you what you ask of him athletically.

I would like to thank Debranne Pattillo of Equinology Inc for introducing me to this concept of stretching.

For further reading one book I have found useful in understanding how muscles affect movement is The Horse’s Muscles in Motion by Sara Wyche and Understanding the Horse’s Back by Sara Wyche.

If your horse develops any neck stiffness after a fall or accident, please have your veterinarian assess your horse to ensure there is no damage to the vertebral column or other underlying disease states.

written by Catherine Bird