Performing Carrot Stretches Safely & Effectively
By Lindsay Day, REMT
Dynamic mobilization stretches, or "carrot stretches," should be performed on level, non-slip footing in an enclosed area, with the horse standing square and balanced. Encourage the horse to hold each position for several seconds, followed by a moment to allow them to relax their muscles and return to neutral before the next attempt.
Begin gradually. Over time you can increase the degree of motion by bringing the bait a little further between the legs (with the chin to knee or chin to fetlock exercises), closer to the chest (chin to chest) or further back toward the hind end with the lateral stretches.
Perform three to five repetitions of each exercise, four to seven days a week or as regularly as possible. Unlike passive stretches (where the horse is not active in achieving the degree of motion), these exercises are safe to perform before exercise. For horses in work, the exercises can be performed before work to pre-activate the core muscles and/or after work when the muscles are still warm.
Particularly in the beginning, horses may shift its position in order to maintain balance. Always stand in a safe position relative to the horse and maintain enough space around you to be able to step back if necessary.
Wear gloves to protect your fingers. A finger protector can also be made with a firm but pliable plastic lid, such as that from a coffee can, by cutting an X in the middle for the carrot to go through.
DYNAMIC MOBILIZATION ("CARROT STRETCH") EXERCISES
The horse’s head and neck should remain straight and in alignment with the middle of the body throughout the exercise, without twisting to one side. The ears should remain level with each other.
Chin to Chest Stretch
Chin to Knees Stretch
Chin to Fetlocks Stretch
LATERAL BENDING EXERCISE
The bait should be held about one to two feet away from side of horse’s body and no higher off the ground than the level of the flank as you ask the horse to bend back beyond the level of his girth. If the bait is higher, some horses will hollow their back rather than rounding it, so the benefits of the exercise are lost. Try to keep the ears at the same level, encouraging the horse to truly bend through the length of the neck, rather than twisting around.
For a comprehensive guide to these and other core strengthening exercises, Hilary Clayton and Narelle Stubbs have an excellent step-by-step manual and DVD “Activate your Horse’s Core: Unmounted Exercises for Dynamic Mobility, Strength & Balance” available at www.sporthorsepublications.com.
Lindsay Day is a Registered Equine Massage Therapist and graduate of the D’Al School of Equine Massage Therapy. Based in southern Ontario, Lindsay brings over 20 years experience riding and working with horses to her practice.
All photos by Anna Shipside
This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of Canadian Horse Journal