10 Essential Stretches For Your Horse - Dr. Pat Bona


Dr. Pat Bona - Doctor of Chiropractic

Grooming, Horse Health, Technique

July 21, 2016

10 Essential Stretches For Your Horse

By Fayth Stephenson

Stretches are a great way to warm up, cool down, and increase flexibility for your horse’s muscles. Studies have been done that suggest static equine stretches outside of exercise help to improve power and speed, as well as reduce the risk of injury. The best time to stretch your horse is after he has been worked. At this time the muscles are warm and pliable.

I stretch my horse, CNF High Smarts “Gatsby,” in place of under saddle work on days that I don’t have much time to fully exercise him, which is typically twice a week. Gatsby is active in the Hunter ring and we are currently working towards moving into Jumpers. By doing these stretches and using the Posture Prep Grooming tool regularly I am able to ensure that he is supple through his jumps and turns and I am able to notice if he is particularly sore or stiff in certain areas. If you are looking for stretches to work on your own flexibility, you can click here.

Take these precautions before stretching:

  • Stretch your horse in a clear area
  • Stretch your horse after his muscles have been warmed up
  • Have someone hold your horse for you, use crossties with caution

*For the following stretches I “ground tied” Gatsby because he is learning how to do so.


  1. Shoulder Flexor

This stretch focuses on the shoulder flexor group and the elbow extensor group.

Start by facing your horse, lift either front leg and give him a moment to balance. Place both of your hands behind the knee to support his leg (I prefer to hold behind the knee and the pastern so my horse doesn’t try to snap his leg back). Hold the cannon bone against your thigh and slowly pull his leg upward and forward.

This is a great stretch to do if your horse is experiencing short striding in the front and has stiff shoulders. This stretch is also helpful to unfold skin that has been pinched under the girth.

  1. Shoulder Flexor II

This stretch focuses on the shoulder extensor group, the elbow extensor group, and carpal flexor.

Start by standing beside your horse, lift either front leg and give him a moment to balance. Place one hand behind his knee and support his toe with your other hand. Pull his leg forward until it is fully extended. You can rest your elbows on your knees to support your back while holding the extended leg. Continue holding the extended leg until your horse leans into the stretch.

This stretch is not suggested for horses that have had lower limb ligament injuries.

  1. Shoulder Extensor

The stretch focuses on the shoulder extensor group.

Start by picking up either front leg as though you’re going to pick its hoof. Place one hand on the front of the knee and use your other hand to support the front of the fetlock. Making sure the hoof is up and “pointed at the hind leg,” begin to gently push on the knee so the leg extends towards the hind leg. Just like the Shoulder Flexor II stretch, hold the leg extended until your horse leans into the stretch. At some point of this stretch you will feel resistance, it is important to not force this stretch-or any stretch-to slim the risk of pulling your horse’s muscles.

This stretch helps horses that have a tense chest and shoulders.

Hind limb

  1. Hip Flexor

            This stretch focuses on the hip flexor.

Start by standing next to either hind limb of your horse. Pick up his leg as though you are going to pick his hoof. Place one hand on the hock and your other hand on the front of the fetlock. Do not exert any downward force on the hock, but rather, push the fetlock out behind the horse. This stretch may be challenging for some horses, but the leg is to eventually be fully extended behind the horse. I suggest baby stepping to this and keeping your inside knee close the fetlock to prevent your horse from snapping his leg back.

This helps to improve your horse’s range of motion.

  1. Hip Extensor, Stifle Flexor

      This stretch focuses on the hip extensors and stifle flexors.

Start by standing next to either hind limb of your horse. Pick up his leg as though you are going to pick his hoof. Place one hand on his fetlock, and hold his toe with your other hand

[I prefer to place my hand on his hock instead of his toe so my horse doesn’t try to snap his leg back (Do not exert any downward force on the hock)]. Pull his leg forward towards the front limbs until it is fully extended. You can rest your elbows on your knees to support your back while holding the extended leg. Continue holding the extended leg until your horse leans into the stretch. This stretch may be challenging for some horses, to lessen the stretch, you can place both of your hands behind his fetlock.This is a great stretch to do if your horse is experiencing short striding in the hind.

Back, Trunk, and Neck

  1. Spinal Extensor

This stretch focuses on stretching the back.

Start by standing directly behind your horse, for more unpredictable horses stand off the side. Using both hands, place them approximately four inches down either side of base of the tail. Begin to scratch. Your horse should start to raise or arch his back. Be sure to scratch a little harder if your horse is not reacting. Once he raises his back, stop scratching and let him relax. Perform this stretch two more times to thoroughly stretch his back.

This stretch is helpful for cold-backed horses, or just to help your horse stretch before and after riding to relieve any stress.

*Gatsby and I did not perform this stretch due to my own personal preferences for him.

  1. Lateral Flexor

      This stretch focuses on the lateral flexors of the neck.

Start by having a long treat like a carrot, grass, candy cane, etc. stand at your horse’s shoulder and baby step backwards, luring his nose to his barrel with the treat. If your horse is trying to circle, use a wall to support his side opposite of you. Your horse may not be able to reach very far at first but continuing this stretch regularly, he may eventually be able to reach his hip.

This stretch is great for horses that may be weak in their turns while doing vaults or other turning/circular tasks.

I personally love this stretch for my horse, Gatsby. It has turned into a fun stretch for him to do in order to earn a treat. We even have our own whistle tune to go with it. I also encourage this stretch while he is under saddle. Whenever we are idle after an exercise or after cooling out, I will whistle and tap one of his shoulders and he will touch my boot that corresponds to the shoulder I tapped.

  1. Neck Extensor

      This stretch focuses on stretching the top of the neck from the poll to the withers and ensuring both sides of the neck are evenly stretched.

Start by having a treat like a carrot, cookie, etc.

There are three different levels to this stretch and it should always be performed after the lateral stretch to ensure both sides of the neck are evenly stretched. It is best to start from the ground up [as listed below], increasing the stretch as the horse works up.

  1. Ground

Using your treat, hold it between your horse’s front hooves.

This stretches the entire length of your horse’s topline, from his poll to his tail.

  1. Knees

Using your treat, hold it between your horse’s knees.

This stretches from your horse’s poll to his loins.

  1. Chest

Using your treat, hold it to your horse’s chest. You may need to lure his nose with the treat to his chest.

This stretches from your horse’s poll to the base of his neck.

Content inspired by: Equine Wellness Magazine

Photo credit: Shelly Edwards Photography.

Before you begin stretching, keep in mind that these stretches are not to replace any veterinary treatments, unless suggested by your veterinarian.
Also, contact your veterinarian before stretching if your horse has any ligament scar tissue or torn muscles. Stretches can sometime aggravate scar tissue and worsen any previous injuries.

66 thoughts on “10 Essential Stretches For Your Horse”

  1. Hi there
    my horse has had back problems in the past
    just wondering if u would tell me how to scratch his spine/loosen all those tight muscles he has???
    thanks so much

    1. Hi Laura,

      I think you are asking about stretches for your horse’s tight muscles.. Of course I would recommend to start with purchasing a Posture Prep Cross Fiber Groomer package so you have the basic instruction booklet and can logon to posture prep.net to view power point presentation that goes in depth on good posture versus poor. Starts with all four canon bones on the vertical. Skin is the largest organ and if your horse’s skin/ his cloths are tight he will restricted in his gait and range of motion. It is about Posture Prepping. See the shorter video here on the website too. You can use coupon code posturepreptoday for 20% off.

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  3. Hi there
    my horse has been out of shape all winter, I am getting her back into shape and was wondering what stretch I could do after lunging her?

    1. Hi Angelina,

      I recommend to my clients the stretch that Dr. Hillary Clayton teaches on her video Core Strengthening for Your Horse.

      Stand with your back at your horse’s girth area and then have them do a long low stretch for a carrot around your body down to their hock.

      So they stretch the opposite ribcage and contract the oblique and abdominals muscles on the side you stand on.

      Also, by improving your horse’s joint mobility you improve their flexibility….., especially of their lower legs. Here is a link to my video to explain further.


      Thanks for reaching out, let me know how it goes. Sorry for the delayed reply.

      Be well, stay hydrated. Your mucous membranes are your first line of defense against bacteria, viruses and other allergens.

      Dr. Pat

  4. Hi, My horses muscle in her back left thigh is visibly tight. She short steps and it stops her from turning barrels correctly any ideas on what to do?

    1. HiCarissa,

      Not much of a history. Is this recent? Is she painful to groom? Has your veterinarian seen her for this issue?

  5. Hi My horse is in rehab from a stifle injury, can you tell me which stretches would be best for him? He had PRP w/shock treatment back in march and has been on Hand walk stall rest, He started at the end of July Walking on different surfaces, lunge line walk and now at a lunge line walk ,trot.

    1. Hi Billie, I am glad to hear from you and happy to hear your horse is starting into rehab. I like Dr. Hillary Claytons DVD and Book guide: ACTIVATE YOUR HORSE’S CORE. Found on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Activate-Your-Horses-Core-Unmounted/dp/B007PFZ9L8/ref=sr_1_4?crid=34TGF8NA5LC6A&dchild=1&keywords=hillary+clayton&qid=1597490028&sprefix=hillary+clayton%2Caps%2C216&sr=8-4.

      OF COURSE, I recommend daily Posture Prepping as well. See my shorter and detailed videos on YOuTUbe at Posture Prepping. Best, Dr. Pat

  6. My horse (who is older) wants to stretch downwards and not carry her head properly but have a very stretches out long and low posture which I do not want in all situations. She also always wants to break into canter. Are there any additional stretches I can do for her back/shoulders?

    1. Hi Abby, I am suspicious that her saddle fit or position is part of the issue. If her topline, weight, or conditioning has changed a saddle that fits well before may not fit as well currently. Are you riding in English tack or western? Does it change if you ride bareback? Let me know. Thanks for reaching out. Dr.Pat

    1. HI Bella,

      I am not big on hind leg stretches as they can stress the hip joint. Range of motion movements and wiggling feet is always good. It is always best to consult with your vet on rehabilitation and recovery. I developed my Cross Fiber Grooming System for my own horses when they were stall bound for a couple of months due to a very Icey winter. Here are a couple of Posture Prep videos that will help.

      Hamstring Crease Release

      Star the FAR

    2. Sorry for the delayed reply. Always look to the balance , health and protection of the feet to support good posture and biomechanics. Look to your vet for a diagnosis and let me know. I may have some suggestions then. I love GLC Hoof Nd Bone for great hoof growth and hoof integrity.

  7. hey there, these are great stretches and i cannot wait to try them. is there any advice you can give in my situation?

    my horse is stiff in her front legs and we did all we could in terms of hoof care. she has an odd gait and i believe it is because of her front legs. she was sitting for a year or so when we got her, and she has come a long way since then, but is there anything i can do to help with it?

    1. First and foremost, look to the feet. She may have poor sole depth or wall strength causing sore feet and compensations in gait. I love GLC HOOF AND BONE as it is very effective and reasonably priced. Of course, I would recommend having your veterinarian do an evaluation for soundness. A strong foundation of balanced healthy happy hooves is the foundation for good posture, health and performance. With that being said, dental care is very important fore health and to keep the TMJ balanced. Saddle fit and placement is also big on the list. Best wishes and be sure to check out my videos on YouTUbe Here are two that may be helpful.

      Rotator Cuff

      Hamstring Crease Release

      1. You’re completely right, we had the vet check her and she has mild arthritis in her right leg and thin soles. We had horseshoes put on her fronts and started using durasole which helped. I will try the GLC HOOF AND BONE thank you for the suggestion.

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