Stretching with the aid of a treat – usually carrots – is a great way to keep your horse flexible without causing any damage. So-called “Carrot Stretches” can be found all over YouTube and the internet. However, it is important to do it right to get a real benefit.
“Carrot Stretches” are active or dynamic stretches, meaning the horse needs to perform the stretch. In comparison, there are ‘passive’ stretches, where the handler effects the stretch, usually by applying a pulling force to the respective limb.
Please note this important difference:
- Active or dynamic stretches – like the ones shown below – can be performed any time with a cold horse. The horse will never injure himself, you cannot overdo it!
- Passive stretches can cause damage to soft tissues if performed on a cold horse and —if unintentionally overdone— even on a warm horse.
Therefore, I DO NOT RECOMMEND PASSIVE STRETCHING as it can result in injury.
Carrot Stretches – Safe, Fun, Effective!
Here my tips for safe & fun, basic carrot stretches that help keep your horse flexible and supple:
The Horse Situp
- Your goal is to encourage the horse to raise the back by stimulating a reflex when stroking across the gluteal muscles.
- Have a relaxed horse and stand sideways behind the horse or place a hay bale between you and the horse’s hind end.
- Use your stiff thumbs or a safe tool like a quarter coin to apply some pressure to the left and right of the sacrum.
- When you see a slight reaction from your horse – lifting the back or tensing muscles without showing a pain response – glide down the gluteals toward the ‘poverty groove’, attempting to elicit a response where the horse raises the back (see image 2).
- Practice this with a safe horse. Once you experience the amount of pressure you need, it will come easier.
To the girth line
- Hold the treat by the girth line. The horse should reach for it, stretching the muscles around the wither area.
- Your horse may need some help in understanding what is asked. Patience is the key!
- In image 3 you see Paladin ‘cheating’. He is a little club-footed in the left front and wanted to minimize the stretch. Ideally, the horse will keep the legs straight.
To the outside of the front foot
- Images 4 and 7 show how this is done correctly.
- The horse stretches the opposite side of the neck and shoulder and brings the back up.
- Note: Paladin once again ‘cheated’ a little in image 4. Do not insist on correctness, rather work towards it slowly.
To the point of hip
- Image 5 shows how nicely Paladin can reach for the point of hip.
- I started by the shoulder and guided him toward the hip, rewarding him with the carrot once this position is reached.
- Tip: If you can let your horse eat the carrot slowly, you will maximize the benefit.
- On images 6 and 8 you see how different horses solve this challenge according to to their ability.
- The paint horse made it easy for himself by stepping forward with the left front, even on several attempts.
- Start easy with what the horse can do and build up over time.
To the elbow
- Image No. 9 shows how the horse is reaching for the treat by the elbow or lower shoulder.
- Schedule your carrot stretches twice weekly.
- Cut the carrots into manageable pieces, not too long (‘snatchers’ like Paladin will munch the entire carrot at once…) and not too small (save your fingers!).
- Always aim for what your horse can do, then take it up a notch next week.
- Do the stretches on both sides. Every time…
IMPORTANT: Dynamic mobilization stretches, or “carrot stretches,” should be performed on level, non-slip footing in an enclosed area, with the horse standing square and balanced. Encourage the horse to hold each position for several seconds, followed by a moment to allow them to relax their muscles and return to neutral before the next attempt. (Comment provided by CaveCreekEquine.com)