Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bad Horse Mommy


Having Ed Wright tell me within an hour or so of meeting him that I was a 'bad horse mommy' was fairly demoralizing.

Ed had me pull Frosty's saddle and showed me an incredibly easy...but highly effective stretch to ease Frosty's knotted sides.

Now, Ed called this a ligament and even told me the name and l didn't get the name wrote I forgot it. I looked in my Equine Anatomy book and do not see a ligament in that region. What I did find was multiple layers of muscle. The outermost muscle and the one we are all most familiar with is the Latissimus Dorsi, which is #15 on this schematic...

(Photos will enlarge if you click on them)

On the front end the latissimus dorsi ties in under the Long Head of the Triceps Brachii, #17 on this schematic.

Under the latissimus dorsi lies the Serratus Ventralis Thoracis, #10 on this schematic...

This is actually the muscle that I think Ed is talking about becoming knotted and causing problems. See how it runs down the side of the horse toward the cinch area and flares over the ribs? The spot just behind the elbow, in the girth area is where Ed had me digging around and what caused Frosty to flinch.

I'm not trying to second guess what Ed said, but since none of the anatomy pics I looked at showed any 'ligament' in that area, I'm guessing he may have just likened it to a ligament since when it is knotted the way Frosty's was, that is what it felt like. Once we got Frosty stretched out, that ropey, rubbery band feeling under my fingers disappeared and felt smooth and elastic.

Here's the thing...

You know all those horses that people say are 'cinchy'?...or 'cold-backed'?...and they never seem to come out of it?

Oh sure....when we work with them every day, they get better, but give them a few days off and it's like we are starting all over again, with the humpy, jumpy, cinchy behaviors...

Ed says most of the time those problems can be attributed to a horse that gets tight and knotted up in this area.

It took 5 or 6 stretches on each side to get Frosty to relax, but the improvement was noticeable and immediate. I re-saddled him and rode right off. Ed told me I should never saddle this horse without doing these stretches and making sure Frosty was relaxed through that area. He said it would probably take 30-45 days for Frosty to get completely over memory of the discomfort/pain he previously associated with being cinched up, but as long as I kept up with it, I shouldn't have the saddling/cold-backed issues with Frosty that I had become so accustomed to having to deal with.

So without further adieu, this is the stretch...

Sorry for the poor quality of these photos. I didn't realize I was standing in such a bad spot for the lighting.

Simply pick your horse's front leg up, slide your arm under the leg and lift it up as high as you can and hold it for up to 30 seconds.

(Moon does not have issues with that area, but I figured this was a pretty good stretch to add to the program for everyone.)


#1) DO NOT attempt this with your horse TIED! If a horse is uncomfortable with having their leg lifted that high, due to pain or just because you've never done it before...They will pull back.

#2) DO NOT attempt to hold them if they resist and pull back. Simply let go of the leg as smoothly as possible and start again.

To start, ask the horse to pick up his front leg. Bring the leg forward, keeping the knee bent. Gently raise the front leg until you can slide your arm under the upper leg and lift the leg as high as the horse's body allows. Keeping the knee bent, you can support the lower leg by holding the toe with your other hand.

Keeping your body close to the horse will help to keep his front leg in proper alignment. DO NOT pull the leg away from the horse's body. Work on lifting the leg as high as the horse's body will allow, but it may take several stretches to get them to release all the way.'s a stretching exercise. The point is not to force the horse, the point is to encourage the muscles to stretch out and become more supple. It may take multiple stretches, but the relief (if there is a problem) is almost immediate.

On day 2 Frosty was 50% better before I stretched him and 90% better after his stretches. On day 3 he was 90% better before I stretched him and a 100% relaxed after I stretched him. Talk about a much more relaxed and happy pony to saddle and ride off on. If I learned nothing else that weekend...that was worth the drive!

But really, that was just the tip of the iceburg...Ed was just getting warmed up with me!

To Be Continued...


Mikey said...

I think this is a wonderful thing people should do more of. We stretch ours both before we saddle, and right after cinching up. I do it so there's no binding or bunching of the girth and their skin, but they all seem to like it. Wade's really big on stretching his horses, he's got a whole routine he does.
Glad to see it explained on here! Can't wait to read more :)

Unknown said...

Oooo, going to try this with Lily!

kestrel said...

I can't wait to try this on a horse I'm working with!

Shirley said...

Do you stretch just once per leg before the ride? I really liked that when I clicked on the photo to enlarge, it came up like a slide show, I could see all 4 photos.

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

Ed's a big believer in stretches. I used to see a lot of barrel racers who stretched their horses, but not as much anymore. To be honest, I saw a lot of them doing it wrong and that can cause injury rather than help.

Here's a pretty decent little article on doing it properly with a few more stretches shown.

I do the hamstring stretch quite frequently with my horses, but avoided doing the front leg stretch because I wasn't sure that the one I saw people doing was correct.

I have seen warnings on some of the stretching articles about lifting the front leg too high. Forcing it can cause strain on the elbow joint, so use caution and don't force the height.

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

Shirley-For a tight horse, Ed said to repeat the stretches until all (or most) of the tension was released. In Frosty's case, he stretched him 4-5 times on each leg, the first evening and we kept feeling that spot to gauge how much that area had relaxed. The next day, I only had to stretch him about 3 times and the knots released, the 3rd morning, it only took 2 stretches and the knots released.

Moon was a little bit tight the 1st time I stretched him, but only needed 2 stretches per leg to release. The next day, he wasn't tight at all, so I just did one per leg.

I guess my thought on stretching is that it is about increasing flexibility and natural suppleness, but there is only a certain range of motion applicable, so if a horse can stretch to the maximum (safe) ROM in one stretch, they probably don't need multiple stretches per muscle group. Under normal circumstances, I don't do any more than 3 of any stretch at one time and that is only if a horse is resistant or has a limited ROM that you are working on increasing. Ideally though, such horses benefit more from more frequent stretching (2-3X's per day) than one session of repeated stretching.

Sherry Sikstrom said...

I haver seen a variation of that stretch before, very interesting , I am wondering if that could have been part of the issue with BAdger.You describe some very similar behavior!

Cut-N-Jump said...

Ack! I missed this post. Good thing I scrolled down. I usually bring the front legs up and out to make sure they weren't pinched by the girth but this makes a lot of sense too.

Off to check out the article and more stretches.

Word verif- cared I swear I'm not making it up!

Anonymous said...

I do this with Molly now too, but to undo some damage done by our last farrier. One of her shoulders is dropped considerably as well as a hip. Besides proper balancing, these stretches are supposed to help her muscles correct themselves and re-balance her body as well.

cdncowgirl said...

I feel the same way about stretches, if done wrong they can cause way more trouble than not doing them at all.
I get my equine massege gal to show me the stretches she recommends. And if I saddle Voodoo and leave him tied he'll stretch himself
(dog stretch, he's a yoga pony lol)

Another thing that causes problems with those cinchy horses is the Vagus (vegus? vegas?) nerve. A guy I bought a horse from had a horse that would flip right over backwards if you cinched him tight right away.