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Horse stretches like a dog

From: Ariane

Dear Jessica, I just love Horse Sense!

I had a little Thoroughbred mare a few years ago who used to stretch like a dog or a cat, even on the crossties: she stretched her front legs out in front of her until her shoulders got quite close to the ground. I thought this was pretty unusual, but then I rode for a while at a dressage barn, and I saw several horses do that. I was told these horses stretched often because they were fit and feeling good; it seems to make sense that a horse in serious training would feel the need to stretch more. What do you know about this kind of behavior?

Thanks a lot. Ariane

Hi Ariane! Your mare was normal - many horses enjoy stretching like this. I've seen many horses come out of their stalls and stretch - first they'll put their forelegs out in front of them and shift their bodies back onto their hind legs, dropping so low in front that their forelegs are almost parallel to the floor. They stay down for a few seconds, then slowly return to a standing position. Next, they they take a step forward with their hind legs so as to put more weight onto their forelegs, and then stretch each hind leg backwards in turn. Once they've done all of that, they're ready to walk forward to the grooming area or the wash stall or the turnout area or wherever the rider wants to take them, but it's clear that they want to stretch FIRST.

I've seen the same behaviour in all sorts of different horses that were turned out and would lie down for a nap or to have a nice roll, and then do some stretching on the way back up.

My personal observation (and I have NO statistics to back it up) is that dressage horses that are kept in stalls seem to do this a little more often than other horses. My theory is that many dressage horses belong to riders who are very concerned with maintaining their horses' flexibility and range of motion, and do a lot of passive stretching exercises with their horses. The horses quickly learn just how good stretching can feel, and then find ways and places and opportunities to do some additional stretching on their own account. Horses don't have to experience passive stretching exercises to figure this out - many horses learn from their own experimentation, or from watching other horses stretch.

If you've never experienced or seen this before, it can be VERY surprising when the horse you're leading out of its stall suddenly drops its front end and stretches. But when you look at the expression of pleasure on the horse's face as it stretches, and after it stretches, you'll quickly see that as far as the horse is concerned, this is something that feels really wonderful. ;-)


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