Carrot stretches are used by many horse owners to increase their horse's flexibility. I often give them to clients to make the horse more willing to go left and right, but are they actually any use?
When you ask your horse to reach for a carrot and stretch he is actively contracting his muscles in the direction he is bending and reflexively relaxing the muscles on the other side. This is useful in encouraging movement both ways but is restricted if there is an underlying issue. For example if the horse's lower cervicals are stiff (the vertebrae towards the base of his neck), then he is likely to rotate and twist through the poll and upper vertebrae rather than truly moving evenly though his entire neck.
Passive movement is the extra movement available at a joint or within a muscle when the horse is moved by someone else. Passive movement can help to create new movement or restore lost movement in a restricted or stiff area. An example of this would be a cervical spine manipulation.
Whilst it is very important for riders and owners to maintain movement in their horse, it is also essential that movement is created or restored in your horse once in a while, so that you are able to continue his work without restrictions. Often when people come to see me to have an MOT Osteopathy Treatment, they leave with several problems to work on which they didn't know they had. Whilst this is surprising to them, it it rarely surprising to me. Pain is the tip of the iceberg and so it is vital to 'treat' the rest of the iceberg regularly - which can be done with or without the presence of pain.
Carrot stretches are a great way to keep you aware of your horse's movements and assessing his willingness to bend. If he is repeatedly stiff to one side, or suddenly becomes stiffer one way, then he may have a restriction which needs more than just stretching to resolve. Stretching is also good to do after riding to help your horse relax and reset his muscles if he gets very tense and tight when you ride.
What would you like know more about with your horse's movements?
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