Effective Stretching: Let the Horse Do the Work Naturally and Easily
Have you ever noticed how smooth and effortless the trot feels after the horse has been cantered? The canter is the most concerted exercise at stretching and lengthening all of the major muscle groups in the horse. The canter allows the horse to stretch with minimum effort and maximum results. The horse knows just how far he can stretch. If his muscles are tight, he only goes as far as he can.
The canter lengthens the neck, shoulders, back, and hindquarters in one fell swoop. It is the gait that allows the horse to synchronize and lengthen muscles as a way to prepare his body to be used. If his back is a little sore, try the canter. It will often temporarily loosen the back in order to perform the required work. I will sometimes get a call from a client who is at a show and is concerned their horse’s back is a bit tight. I suggest cantering the horse in the warm up before they compete and this usually solves the problem.
The canter is similar to a knee to chest stretch for us (humans) when we have a tight back. During the canter, the horse has to bring his knee (stifle) underneath his body toward his chest, thus stretching the back muscles. It requires the muscles to elongate, while the blood volume and oxygen increases in each muscle being used.
How to Start: Have you ever heard about warm ups? A basic warm up is simply warming the muscle up. Muscles warm up by having an increase in blood flow to the muscle. Simply shaking your hands or legs for a minute, warms that part of your body up.
For the horse, a warm up may be a good working walk and a very light, brief trot about 5 min before the canter. If in cold weather, the warm up should be longer. After you have warmed the muscles up at a walk and brief trot, begin the canter. Canter in a connected frame for about 2 min or twice around the arena in both directions. A connected frame is not collection, or falling on the forehand. A connected frame is working the horse on contact, stretching forward and down with acceptance of the bit, rather than on a loose rein. The horse moves from behind, all the way to the poll so there is a connection in your hands with a long, reaching neck, where the horse is looking through the bridle. A working balanced frame from back to front.
Once you have cantered around, your horse will be stretched and ready for work! Move Better, Perform Better, Last Longer!