We spend hours and hours in training our horses to develop them physically or to perfect a certain maneuver, but how many of us take 5-10 minutes after the cool down to stretch out our horse's muscles? My guess is not enough!
Stretching is very important for maintaining maximum mobility and suppleness in muscles. When your horse's muscles are still warm from a work-out, taking a few minutes to stretch out those muscles will help to alleviate any tension that may have developed during training or performance. This may help to prevent injuries from developing. Through keeping muscles supple, we reduce tension that can be applied to tendons, ligaments, and joints.
Basically, muscles and tendons/ligaments attach to bones in order to facilitate movement. When there is tension present in a muscle, it remains contracted to some degree. This may involve only a few muscles fibres in the beginning but can develop into more if not addressed. Contraction = shortening of the muscle. The shortening of the muscle causes the tendon/ligament to be in constant stretch which can also cause strain on the joints themselves. If tendons and ligaments are in a stretched position, there is no flexibility remaining which predisposes them to strain injuries (overstretching). Tendon injuries are prevalent in equine sports and tense, shortened muscles are usually the cause of those injuries.
This is where stretching comes in! Stretching decreases muscle tension which thereby reduces the chance of muscular strain injuries. By keeping the muscles supple and elastic, stretching relieves strain/tension on ligaments and tendon which reduces the chances of them being over stretched. In short, supple horses are less likely to injury themselves because their tendons/ligaments, and muscles are more prepared to flex and stretch when dealing with sudden changes in speed, direction, or problems in footing.
Take a few minutes to stretch out your horse today!