Andrea's thought​s on numerous horse rel​ated topics!

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April 16, 2021   My Top 3....

If you speak with 25 different horsemen about how to best create free muscle movement and balance in their horses, you will get 25 different answers. Albeit they will most likely be somewhat related, they will be justifiably different. While my top 3 priorities in this area may not be yours, they all add up to enhance performance, decrease pain, and improve overall musculoskeletal health with your lovely horse! My top 3 are as follows:

1. Always assure that you properly warm up and cool down your horse – think a minimum of 5 to 10 minutes. Let’s think about why: by warming up, you allow better blood and oxygen flow to all muscles, allowing them to access what they need from the body before their workout begins. Warming up also allows proper synovial fluid to cover the joints before an activity session. All of this goes to prevent the ever-dreaded injury. Cooldowns are just as important! A proper cooldown after working large muscles allows gradual recovery of the heart rate and blood flow and lets the body’s temperature regulate itself. Cooling down helps to prevent stiffness and soreness in all those muscles that just worked. It is essentially the same as with humans – when we exercise, you can definitely tell a difference when you skip these steps!

2. Regularly back your horse, both in and out of the saddle. In addition to being a wonderful training tool in teaching your horse respect for you and your space, backing up your horse does wonders for muscle development and engagement. This is not a natural gait for horses. You won’t look into a pasture and see them backing up without being asked by their human counterparts. By backing, your horse will learn to round their spine and muscles, developing a stronger topline. Backing also teaches them to put weight on their hind legs, strengthening them – think healthy glutes and stifles! When a horse has a strong and developed topline, they are naturally more able to carry themselves in a balanced way.

3. Develop a simple stretching routine for your horse and do it after every ride. Dynamic stretches (the stretches that are held for a period of time) should ALWAYS be done on warm muscles to prevent injury. If you are unsure of how to develop a stretching routine, work with your equine bodyworker if you have one, or even ask your trainer or vet for some suggestions of safe stretches. By stretching after every workout, you’ll help to maintain muscle health, strengthen supportive tissue and help to prevent tight muscles and shortened tendons. These are all important things when working toward a more balanced and supple mount!

I’d love to hear from you! What else do you feel should be on this list?  

May 17th, 2021   Let's Talk Stifles

Let's talk stifles! The stifle is equivalent to the knee in humans, where the femur meets the tibia. In efforts not to make a huge anatomy blog post, let's just say that some key muscles (most notably the quadriceps) and numerous ligaments help to support this joint.  The health of the stifle joint is key in your horses' movement and needs to be cared for!    If there are problems here,  you'll definitely know it!  

Stifle muscle or ligament injuries are most often due to strain from rotation and speed. Hunters and jumpers will frequently see strains here from take offs and landings, or quick turns in the ring. Injuries are also commonly seen in competitors needing fast lateral movements, such as in cutting or barrel racing. However, any horses, even non-working horses, can injure a stifle in a simple pasture play injury.  We've all seen our horses kick up their heels, run around like nuts and even have some unpleasant interactions with their herd mates from time to time!  Never a dull moment with horses, right?  

However, you're in luck!  You can absolutely strengthen your horse's stifles with various exercises.  What is my go to for stifle exercise?  Doing hill work with your horses! Whether riding, hand walking, or even lunging on uneven pasture ground, hill work will strengthen the quadriceps muscle. Backing your horses in hand or under saddle is another great strengthening exercise which will target the hind end.  I try to make sure I do some backing sporadically through every riding session.  I also frequently back my horse on the ground (see blog post titled My Top 3).   Another option to throw into your training mix is to practice lots of balanced transitions.  This includes transitions between all gaits.  

There are a number of stretches your bodyworker can show you how to safely perform that focus on the stifle and hind end of your horse.  Curious to know some of them? Reach out to me and I'll be happy to share with you!  

What are some other strengthening exercises that you use to keep your horses' stifles in top condition?  I'd love to hear from you!