Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The magic of stretching

Have you ever looked at your horse and suddenly saw something you've never seen before that's been there the whole time? I had that moment over the winter, when the funkiness of Coriander's left shoulder suddenly appeared before my eyes. His left foot looks clubbed compared to his right and he nearly always stands with the left leg back, that's something I already knew- but I finally noticed that his left scapula and the muscles around it are much more prominent than on the right.

His typical stance, note the left leg back
A left leg forward miracle! Notice the funkiness in the shoulder up by the withers
See how the right shoulder looks different?
It made me wonder if it might be the muscles in his shoulder causing the club foot more than an issue with the actual bone (haven't gotten that foot x-rayed yet, that'll get done this spring). Maybe he's been in that habitual posture so long, possibly by copying his mother- Gwen does the same thing, that the muscles have knotted and shrunk until they pulled his left leg shorter than his right?

I felt that theory was worth testing, fortunately my Mom got me Jim Masterson's book of horse massage for Christmas so I had a place to start. I started out with the simplest exercises of dropping the knee down and back and pulling the leg forward and down to stretch the shoulder. Was I doing it quite right? I doubt it- yet after diligently doing the stretches every day for a week he started standing with his left leg straight down instead of angled back. Sometimes he even stood for minutes at a time with his left leg forward! Amazing.

It's much too soon to tell what the long-term benefits are going to be, I've only been doing these stretches for about two weeks, but so far it looks worthwhile. It certainly won't hurt him to do the stretches even if they don't smooth out his funky shoulder.

Here's another massage therapist to look at: This is April Battles, her technique is slightly different from the Masterson Method but I've been able to mix in a few of her stretches to my routine as well. Particularly the shoulder stretch forward and across.


Has anyone else incorporated stretching routines for their horses? Have you had any good results from it?

23 comments:

  1. Yes, I do carrot stretches with Salem, along with some of the stuff I learned in Activate Your Horse's Core (although I haven't been doing them nearly enough as I should!). That's a GREAT book/DVD that has some great exercises, although Salem had a hard time with some of the ones that make the horse use/lift the back.

    I also got Masterson's book for Christmas but haven't started incorporating any of his techniques yet. I would really like to get the DVD so I can actually see the method in action.

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  2. I think I have that core book too- must check the bookshelf when I get home.

    I watched the DVD while I was at Cheryl's for the clinic. Now I wish I'd been paying closer attention. He does have a YouTube page but he doesn't show everything there.

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  3. The stretches are a great idea I know a certain palomino mare (Dusty) who could benefit from these stretches while she's getting back into shape. Ditto for my unfit paint (Blue).

    I like that there are videos to show you how to do it. I have a book: Stretch Exercises for Your Horse: The Path to Perfect Suppleness by Karin Blignault, that I bought a few years ago. I'm just not comfortable doing things from a book so I never used it. It's better for me to see how the exercises are supposed to be done and what it looks like when you do it right. I'm always worried that I will do them wrong and cause damage. Anyway, thanks for this post it gave me some good ideas.

    As for your boy, I think it would be good for him. I think if it can't hurt it can only help.

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    1. Start out gently and don't ask for a big range of motion. Stretch her like you'd stretch yourself when you're really stiff, just a little and hold it until she relaxes.

      I'll have to look into that author.

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  4. Val rarely stands square in the back. He came to me with a hip issue that precludes him jumping again. Massage and stretches + dressage seems to help.

    I've been doing the carrot stretches and butt tucks, but the shoulder work and tail pull are new to me. Might need the video. :) Thanks so much for this post.

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    1. She shows the tail pull at the 4:30 mark of the video. Since Val has a hip issue he might like it, fortunately it's pretty easy to do (so long as your horse isn't a kicker- eek).

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  5. Dee has the same sort of configuration and stretching and paying close attention to working both sides of her evenly has done her a world of good! The difference in her shoulders is no longer as obvious as it used to be. My research has shown that this type of asymmetry is not typically skeletal and can be corrected with the right therapy. Sounds like you're on the right track!

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    1. Hmm, I seem to remember reading about that now. Were there any stretches that she seemed to like in particular?

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  6. Ever since we had our first horses worked on by a holistic, chiropratic vet we have incorporated stretches into the almost daily routine. My horses enjoy it so much, as soon as they see the carrots they start going through the stretches, head down, side to side. We also do some acupressure. It is amazing how the horses will direct you to where they need work done. Some will even point with their noses. Belly lifts, tail pulls and butt tucks are great too.
    Our first horse is proof these stretches with correct ridden work can change muscles in a good way. His back was atrophied when we bought him and not even a year later his back was healthy and continuing to develop.
    Just take things slow and listen to your horse.

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    1. That's brilliant!

      I do want to try acupressure at some point but for now I'm going to focus on the stretches. Trying to do too much gets confusing ;)

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  7. There are some stretches in TTouch--the tail slides, neck stretch, belly lifts. Cowboy had swelling in the same area as Coriander. I'm doing the chimpanzee style circles (back of hand knuckles doing the circles) all the way down the shoulder line with tail slides. She wants to be able to stick her whole hand under that muscle, but right now it's too tight. Cowboy has been standing solid this spring, too--both feet under him. I'm going to check out your links and do a little research on massage. The more we can do, the better for our horses. If nothing else, it teaches us to see what's going on in their bodies and minds. Why I didn't do this before, I do not know. I could kick myself!!

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    1. I can't get behind that muscle on Coriander's shoulder either. Is that the leg where he broke the coffin bone?

      Don't kick yourself too hard, you won't be able to work with your horses if you hurt yourself ;)

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    2. The swelling is on the same side where the break occurred and both sides are tight at the shoulder. The practitioner is coming tomorrow for another session with him. I'll let you know what she says.

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  8. YES, I've been doing stretching in Laz's right shoulder. Chiro found old injury scar tissue so I'm slowly trying to break it up b/c he found that Laz holds it 'in' and holds tension in jaw as well. Chiro felt unrelated to his RH injury. So, for past few months, stretching up and in before warming up, and after on both sides for balance. I have notice a slight (but BIG) to me improvement in his reaching out and comfort. :) Keep up the good stealth work! Our Masterson contact, Tami, got behind shoulder muscles but I am toooo nervous to. She's in WI if anyone needs a great girl!

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  9. Such a great post! I love it when horse owners start with natural remedies to try to solve a problem before turning to drugs. That is so wonderful that you have seen results in just a week- very encouraging. Be sure to keep us posted!

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    1. I was kind of shocked to see results that fast, but instant gratification is a big motivator for me to keep doing it ;)

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  10. I'll have to come back and read this post. I've been doing stretches with Chrome too. :) Am I not following your blog? I'll have to fix that lol.

    Thanks for the comment on Chrome's hooves. I'm going to put a roll on them, in fact I started it last night, but I recently tripped over my own feet and fell so I'm too sore to do it. I tried, but didn't have the strength to even hold his foot up lol. I will get it done though as soon as I'm healed lol.

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  11. I think stretches are great and I do them, but looking at Coriander's photo's I'm going to come in from a completely different point - crookedness! Most horses are naturally crooked to one side, but some of them are more extreme.If the first picture is his usual stance, that makes me wonder if he is the same as Cassie, very crooked to the left. That would explain the left shoulder, because the left side of his body will be strong and contracted and the muscles on the right side will be long and slack. Does his saddle ever slip slightly to the right? Problems going into canter on one side? If he's very crooked it might help to combine stretches with some straightness exercises.

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    1. He most definitely is crooked, they both are. The saddle slips to the left on both of them and it's nearly impossible to get Coriander to pick up the left lead under saddle.

      I've been looking at Philippe Karl's exercises and I plan to do a lot of more lateral work with him this year, adding shoulder-in and counter shoulder-in.

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  12. I have done some shoulder work with Harley around the scapula, but I have not really stretched his legs as demonstrated in this video. I noticed that he wants to stretch them when I try to finish his trim from the top (which is amusing for him, not so for me!). I had been meaning to stretch him on purpose and your blog reminded me. I tried the leg extensions during my last two trips to the barn and Harley loves them! I am waiting until he is more consistent and it feels easier for him before I try the cross-over. Thanks for the video and reminder!

    I left this reply for you on my blog and decided to paste it here:

    I am really enjoying the Welz trimming philosophy. Some of the things that I am doing (the strong roll) are part of his philosophy, but I am also learning some news things (like about the heels) that I think I may be able to adopt. Thanks so much for directing me to this information!

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    1. I've noticed that stretching response with nearly every horse when I've put their front feet up on the hoof stand to finish the roll. They love that stretch!

      Did you join Hoof Help Online?

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