Daily stretching might not be good for horses

March 29, 2010

Researchers in Britain found that daily passive stretching might not be appropriate for horses. © Natasha Rose, Alison Northrop

Over use of passive stretching techniques may be detrimental horses, a study suggests.

Such exercises are often used to encourage efficient movement and help limit injury, in both human and equine athletes.

Researchers at Myerscough College found that although passive stretches appeared to have some effect on horse movement, they did not produce consistent improvement.

Stretches on a daily basis resulted in reduced range of movement at the stifle and hock, the researchers found.

Natasha Rose and colleagues at Myerscough College near Preston, in Britain, investigated the effects of two different passive stretching regimes on stride length and range of motion in horses trotted in hand.

Six mares and twelve geldings were used for the study.

They were divided into three groups containing six horses each. One group received a 6-day a week stretching regime; the second were given passive stretches 3 days a week. The third (control) group received 10 minutes of human contact daily but no stretching.

Treatment was given for a period of eight weeks. The same person, a qualified equine body worker, performed all the stretching exercises.

The research team used video analysis to measure stride length and range of motion of the limb joints.

All horses were trotted up in hand at a constant speed by the same experienced handler. Measurements were taken initially and at two-week intervals throughout the eight weeks of the study.

Individual horses varied in their acceptance of the procedure. The therapist noted that some horses responded better than others did to the stretches.

Individual horses would be expected to show different responses for a variety of reasons, including history and conformation.

The researchers found no detectable differences in stride length between the treatment groups. They suggest that monitoring the response in horses trotting in hand may not be a fair test of the benefits of stretching exercises. After all, a horse might not put in the effort to produce a longer stride without being encouraged to do so by a rider.

They did find differences between the treatment groups in the range of movement of certain joints. The overall range of movement in the stifle was significantly lower in horses on the six-day-a-week stretching regime, than in either the control horses or the three-day-a-week stretching regime group. The hock showed a similar result.

Shoulders treated with the three-day-a-week stretching regime showed a higher range of movement than in either of the other two groups.

"These results suggest that stretching every day may not be appropriate for the horse," the researchers conclude. "Stretching three days a week provided some benefit in terms of range of movement, and may be a safer option for the industry to consider."