Stretching is important to the fundamental development of the horse. Stretching, or allowing your horse to go ‘long and low’ and forward is the primary step in the systematic development of the horse’s top line for all disciplines.
The strength of the topline of the horse is what determines:
- how much collection a horse can obtain
- how large a horse can jump
- how fit and sound a horse will be.
Young Horse Training
In the beginning of a horse’s training the young horse has very little muscle development on his top line. As a result, some horses need more stretching to promote their back coming up and their stomach muscles to become engaged.
In general terms, horse’s have two sets of muscles, those which extend and lengthen, and those which contract. The muscles over the top of the horse should be longer so they can extend the horse’s legs forward.
The muscles underneath the horse, along their stomach and barrel, should be shorter so they can draw the horse’s hind legs under the horse’s center of gravity. When the horse naturally lowers his neck, with a light and positive contact, the horse’s back will lift up and the stomach muscles will engage and draw the horse’s hind legs underneath the horse.
If you see a horse with it’s top line shorter than its stomach, it is hollow and inverted. The hind quarters are usually left behind without power, the horse’s back is dropped, and the horse’s neck is concave (ewe necked).
For young horses and horses in training, stretching can be and should be a fundamental exercise for development. Stretching correctly, with the back up and the horse pushing from behind, can be done for 10 strides at a time and as a requirement for 1st and 2nd level horses, a full 2 metre circle at trot and canter.
Stretching for Advanced Horses
As your horse progresses through his training allowing them to stretch serves a different purpose. Advanced horses are fit enough and have developed the needed muscles and do not have to perform stretching exercises for muscle development. Stretching can be used as a way to relax a horse and release tension as they progress through their daily program.