Carrot Stretching in Horses

Kaela Schraer, DVM
By Kaela Schraer, DVM on Oct. 11, 2022

What is Carrot Stretching in Horses?

Horses are incredible athletes and just like humans, they perform much better when they are properly warmed up before exercising. Carrot stretching can be a great part of a horse’s warmup and cooldown routines.

Carrot stretches are a form of dynamic stretching using a carrot or other high value treat to encourage a horse to move its neck through various positions. It helps to increase flexibility and mobility through the spine as well as increase core strength and improve overall balance. Not only can it help horses who are actively competing, but carrot stretching can also benefit older horses who have developed arthritis by helping them maintain a strong core and increase mobility in sore or tight joints. It can also benefit horses after an injury, since the rest/recovery process can lead to a lot of stiffness through lack of movement.

How to Carrot Stretch Your Horse

It is very important for the safety of both the horse and handler that carrot stretches are performed in a safe environment. This means an area with level footing, few distractions, and enough space to move and maneuver fully without bumping into things.

  1. Remove any blankets, straps, or tack from the horse that may limit their range of movement.

  2. Start with the horse standing squarely on an even surface.

  3. Use a treat to encourage the horse to follow your hand in the direction you want them to stretch.

  4. Hold positions for 3-5 seconds before giving your horse the treat and allowing them to relax.

Each of these exercises can be repeated up to 3-5 times. It is important to start slowly since these are muscles your horse may not have used this way before. If you start out too aggressively, it can result in soreness or injury.

Never force a horse to perform a stretch or stretch past their comfort point. This can also lead to injury. The more regularly you practice these stretches with your horse, the further and longer they will be able to hold the stretch. 

Best Carrot Stretch Exercises for Horses

  1. Lateral stretch: Stretch toward the girth area, then the hip and/or hock. Repeat on the other side.

  2. Rounding stretch: Encourage the horse to bend their neck toward their chest, between the knees and then toward each front hoof.

  3. Trunkal lifts: Press gently but firmly on the sternum of the horse encouraging the horse to lift through its back.

These stretches are excellent for athletic, rehabbing, and arthritic horses. Always follow your horse’s lead–if something seems too hard or they resist–decrease the frequency or length of time of the stretch and build up more slowly.

How Often Should You Do Carrot Stretches?

Just like with any other exercise, it is important to start slowly and build up over time. One or two short repetitions may be all your horse is able to do without straining in the beginning. Follow your horse’s lead and never ask them to do more than they are comfortable with. Increased flexibility of movement will come with regular, consistent practice. It can take several weeks to see a significant change in your horse’s flexibility.

Carrot stretches can be performed any time but may be most effective if performed after warming up the muscles through a light walk/trot. They are also great after an exercise to help the muscles release and stretch.

References

Maddux, Melissa. UTCVM LARGE ANIMAL CLINICAL SCIENCES. Equine Carrot Stretches.

Featured Image: iStock.com/golero

References


Kaela Schraer, DVM

WRITTEN BY

Kaela Schraer, DVM

Veterinarian

Dr. Kaela Schraer graduated from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in 2017 with her doctorate in veterinary medicine. After...


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