Written by: Cheryl Sutor
Since so many horse-people have had such wonderful results from using these hind leg exercises, I will share them will all of you here. These exercises are to help lengthen and even out a horse’s stride, which allows him to move more freely. In order to perform the exercises, the horse must be able to stand relaxed and confident while you handle his feet.
A horse’s fear of being handled around his legs should be overcome well before the hooves are ever picked up. If your horse becomes nervous or aggressive when you try to handle his legs and feet, you will need to teach him to be relaxed and confident while you handle him. To do this, teach him to leave his feet on the ground while you work with his legs by massaging every part of his leg gently using small circles and long strokes.
If you are having difficulty working on the massage techniques above because your horse threatens to kick, try this – get a long dressage whip and stand at the horse’s shoulder. Use the whip as an extension of your hand to massage him gently all over his body, then on his legs. If he tries to kick at the whip, just continue rubbing him with it softly and calmly. Never hit your horse with the whip. Once he can handle this without kicking, it will be much safer for you to perform the massaging with your hands.
As with all stretching exercises, there is a possibility of over-stretching. Be extremely careful not to over-stretch your horse’s hind legs, or it may result in soreness or other damage. To avoid over-stretching, pay close attention when working with your horse’s limbs…if there is any resistance, you may be stretching too far or moving too fast. Always try to allow your horse to balance himself, and do not push your horse off balance when handling his feet.
Just Starting Out:
Run your hand gently down your horse’s hindquarters and the back of his leg, then ask him to pick up his foot. Do not pick up the foot right away, instead you need to let his toe rest on the ground until he relaxes the muscles in that hind leg. If he has difficulty understanding that you want his toe on the ground, you can try holding his hock gently to keep his toe on the ground. Pick out and clean both hooves while his toe rests on the ground.
If your horse can stand relaxed and confident for the above exercise, you can continue to the stretching and circle exercises below.
Stretching and Circles
Pick up your horse’s hind foot and bring it slightly under his belly. With his foot near the ground, make 10 small circles in each direction (10 circles clockwise, and 10 circles counter-clockwise). After repeating this on both sides, start over and try to make slightly larger circles. Each time you do this stretching exercise, start with small circles and gradually make them larger.
When you are able to make larger circles without any resistance from your horse, you can try picking up his foot and bringing it further under his belly. You may be surprised at how far it can reach!
For this next exercise, be careful not to strain your horse’s lower back by lifting his leg too high or too far backward. Start at the horse’s normal resting position, where only his toe is touching the ground. Now, lift the leg a little, and move it slightly backwards from that position. Circle his leg 10 times in each direction using small circles. Do not use large circles in this position, as it may strain the horse’s back.
Next, allow your horse’s toe to rest gently on the ground again. Place your hand gently on his hock and jiggle his leg left and right, which will relax the muscles and joints in his hindquarters and back.
Always be sure to repeat the exercises on both sides. If there is more tension in one leg than the other, be sure to work the tense leg more often, to even out the horse’s balance and movement. And, that’s it! Your horse will begin to have a more relaxed back and hindquarters, and will soon move more freely with a nice, lengthened stride!