Stretching is one of those things that is not an absolute necessity, but if you do it regularly, it can help keep your horse limber and willing to work. There are a couple of stretches which you can do with your horse that are quick and easy and help maintain a supple back and topline.
The first kind are “Carrot Stretches.” The term ‘carrot stretch’ seems to be one that gets thrown around quite a bit, but tends to confuse and baffle many people. These stretches primarily target the neck and back and are great to do every time you see your horse.
To do a carrot stretch, grab a treat (anything is fine, as long as its something your horse will gobble readily!) and stand near your horse’s flank. You will do this on both sides, so it doesn’t matter which side you start on. If you aren’t sure your horse will stay put and you want to hold onto the lead rope, just be certain to give a gracious loop for him to move. Offer the treat and draw it back from his shoulder to his flank, right across the middle of the barrel so that your horse bends his neck around to take it from you. When you are just starting out with this stretch, keep in mind that your horse may not be particularly flexible yet, so if you need to hold the treat away from his side a foot or so, or not bring it all the way to his flank, that is perfectly fine — he can work up to the full stretch. Do a few of these on each side of the horse’s body. I tend to alternate back and forth, doing two on one side, two on the other, then repeating it, so he gets about 8 little treats total.
Another fun way to get your horse stretching is by teaching him to bow. Press your chin to your chest. Do you feel the stretch in the back of your neck? This is the stretch that we are simulating by teaching a horse to bow. It will loosen up their neck and topline, plus give you a fun trick to show off to your friends! =D
To teach the bow, grab a big handful of nibbles, because its going to take a lot of repitition (but hopefully not a lot of time) to teach this one. The ultimate picture you want to see is your horse with his head down, between his knees and one leg bent, resting the toe on the ground next to his cheek (that part is just for the look of the bow!). Start easy, by offering your horse a treat low to the ground in front of his hooves by standing or crouching next to his front leg. It doesn’t matter which side, since everything will be centered anyhow. Then move on to offering it a little bit further back, just between his front legs and still low to the ground. The higher up the treat gets when you pull it back, the harder the stretch becomes, so start low to the ground. When you offer the treat, you should be reaching between his legs and asking him to put his head between his legs. Add the voice command, “bow.” Once he willingly reaches between his legs for the treat, begin pulling your hand back a little further before releasing the treat to him, which will force him to (eventually) bend a leg, (which makes the bow look more debonair!) It may take a few sessions, but if you have a horse who is easily motivated by treats, this should be pretty easy! I taught this concept to my horse in about 30 minutes.