Dynamic Stretching
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Wednesday, April 30, 2014 08:48 AM
Dynamic stretches are best incorporated into your warm up routine before training or a competition. More recently, clinical studies have shown that traditional static stretching exercise may be detrimental to sports involving powerful movements. Dynamic stretches seem to be more effective at reducing muscle stiffness, which is thought to increase the likelihood of muscle tears. - this exert is from Sports Fitness Advisor website. The statement is about human athletes. However, horses are mammals and athletes too so applying dynamic stretching principals to them can be very beneficial . The difference between dynamic and static stretching is in the first one the stretch happens during the movement near the end of range of motion. However, is not prolonged or hold for any number of seconds as in static stretch. The stretch is immediately eased up as the movement gets reversed. This way with each repetition muscles can increase the range of motion as they warm up with much less chance of injury as long as the movement is not forced.
The guidelines you want to follow while thinking of dynamic stretching for your horse's warm up are:
  • As the stretch is not prolonged or fixated - you ask your horse for a certain movement only for a few strides
  • At the beginning while muscles are still cold the range of motion is less than at the end of warm up. Do not demand a lot in the beginning
  • The focus is on changes not on perfect execution that can lead to resistance and stiffness which is opposite to what we are after. Keep coming back to the positions and movements until you like what you feel. Do not try to achieve results here and now.
  • Incorporate dynamic stretching into all three gaits during your warm up, also changing the gaits themselves is dynamic stretching, especially, if done on unusual lines
  • Have a clear plan for today's ride and include in your warm up the movements you are planning to school in the main section of your ride. However, use less demanding versions, less number of steps or repetitions, or think of exercises that can help the horse prepare for the work ahead.
Now, lets create a few examples of dynamic stretches for horses:
  • Changing flexion on a circle or straight line in all gaits. What to watch for - amount of flexion and number of steps it is asked for, mix with no flexion allowing the horse to stretch down a bit
  • Shoulder-in/counter shoulder-in on a big circle or straight line. Watch for resistances and look for smoothness of change. Do not get stuck if it doesn't feel right. Keep changing from one to another until it improves
  • Transitions trot - canter - trot - canter are great dynamic stretches helping the horse to release his back and step under more
  • Transitions within the gait
  • Working over poles
  • Changing the neck position - round to long and low and back to round, and/or staying round but dropping the neck down a bit and lifting it up again
  • Serpentine, figure 8, shallow loop, leg-yield zigzag to quarter line and back to the wall are good examples of dynamic stretching. You can focus on changing bend during your warm up and use all of these exercises. Or, use simpler ones in the warm up and more difficult ones in the main section of your ride.
  • If you are planning to work on counter-canter - counter shoulder-in in trot warm up and counter flexion in canter warm up is a good way to prepare your horse for counter canter in the main section of your ride. If your horse is more advanced in counter-canter ride shallow loops in canter warm up to give him heads up on what is ahead today. If you are planning to work on shoulder-in - shoulder-in in walk warm up, spirals and shoulder fore on the big circles in trot warm up.
  • There are numerous possibilities at creating different and interesting combinations. This will keep both of you motivated and mentally more engaged. I always like to plan my ride including my warm up as it is impossible to do everything every day, especially, with more advanced horse. This keeps me from falling into same stereotypical routine and also keeps my horse interested in the work we are doing.
You can also incorporate dynamic stretching ideas into your own warm up while you are grooming and tacking up your horse. Have a good balanced posture with knees slightly bent and core muscles engaged and use big, rhythmical, sweeping motions to groom your horse. Watch that you groom with both hands and your movements are symmetrical. I, personally, like to groom front of my horse with the hand close to the front and the hindquarters with the hand close to hind end. This will give your body a good dynamic stretch on both sides. Add to it lunges into an elevated but sturdy support, like a hay bale, a mounting block or a bottom rail of a fence. Lunge onto one leg and pump it up and down a few times feeling very mild comfortable stretch, change legs and pump it again. Stretching up and slightly arching backwards and then folding forward at the hips is another good dynamic stretch for hamstrings, quads and torso. Repeat a few times. remember not to create an effort, just a nice easy movement letting your body to stretch more with each repetition.
Happy riding...
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My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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