Head Down!

Have you ever thought Gee, this would be a lot easier if his nose wasn’t brushing the barn beams! This seems to be a common complaint among horse people.

Here is a super handy little trick to teach your horse for those times when you need to see the top of his head or have access to his ears for clipping, bridling or general checks for overall health:

Standing next to your horse’s head like you would to lead, put a small amount of downward pressure on the lead rope.  Hold this pressure nice and steady until your horse lowers his head and then immediately release.  (I add the phrase “head down” when I teach it, although it is not entirely necessary.)  Even if he pops his head back up, give him a short reward (neck rub, treat, etc) and then do it again.  The first couple times you try this, even the slightest decrease in resistance to the pressure of the halter is cause for reward.  If your horse will consistently give in to the pressure, make it a little more challenging by not releasing pressure until his nose is even lower or give him less time to rest in between.  By asking him to put his head back down immediately when he raises it again, it teaches him that you want him to keep his head down.  GQ, my handsome dude, learned this idea very quickly and now I just give a featherlight tug on the lead and he puts his head down to my eye level and holds it there while I clip his bridle path or fiddle with his ears.

This is one trick that will make your life infinitely easier, I promise you that! Just remember:

  • Be consistent!
  • Remember that horses have a 3 second time limit in which they connect your reaction to their action, so be quick to praise when they are doing well or correct when they are wrong!

The Equine Eye: Color Vision

In my first post about the equine eye (found here), I explained that I think it is important to understand how every part of the horse functions in order to be able to train and work with them efficiently and effectively. So why take so much time talking about the horse’s eye?  The eye is an incredibly complex structure and the way that it functions in horses and humans is vastly different.  If we can’t understand how a horse views the world differently from us, how can we understand how to effectively communicate with him? Therefore, by taking the time to learn about the equine eye, we can become better trainers, riders and handlers.

There has been much debate over the way horses see color, or if they see color at all.  Through many tests and studies however, researchers have made many discoveries about the way that color and light works from a horse’s perspective.  Before delving into the color debate, let’s go over two important parts of the eye:

  • Cones are the part of the eye that distinguish color.
  • Rods are the part of the eye that perceive light intake.

The first item in the color debate is whether or not horses actually see colors and to what extent.  The answer to this is that horses do indeed see color, but not quite as vibrantly as humans do.  Horses have dichromatic vision, which means that they have two types of cones in their eyes.  Humans have trichromatic vision which means that they have three types of cones.  The cones in human eyes perceive blue, green and red.  With these three types of cones, we can see thousands of colors in sharp contrast.  The cones in a horse’s eye perceive blues and greens, although the greens that horses see has more of a yellow hue to it that it does to our vision.  When a horse views red, it appears as a kind of earthy tone with yellow and blue hues.  Certain colors can not be distinguished from one another, similar to when we put a color picture into grayscale and one color has the same gray tone as a different one.  Researchers believe that equine color vision is similar to a person’s vision who has a red-green deficiency where there is very little or no problem with blues and yellows but not  all reds and greens are distinguishable.  The colors a horse sees are washed out in comparison to what we see when looking at the same image and tend to resemble a sepia tone.  Here is an example:

Human trichromatic vision

Equine dichromatic vision

The cones of a horse’s eye are also arranged differently than the cones in a human eye.  Our cones are packed centrally on our retina.  A horse’s cones are spread out along a “visual streak” on the retina that mimics the line where earth and sky meet making it easier for them to scan the horizon.  As a prey animal who needs to be continually aware, this is useful!

Next we come to the function of rods in the eye.  Many horse people, especially avid trail riders, are familiar with the advice to let your horse be the guide if you find yourself stuck out on a ride after nightfall or as it begins to get dark.   This is great advice to follow because horses have much better night vision than us because humans have fewer rods than horses do.  The human cone to rod ratio is 20:1 while the equine ratio is 9:1.  The larger amount of rods, in conjunction with the tapedum lucidum, a reflective coating on the back of the retina, allows for optimum light intake and makes a horse’s scotopic vision (vision in dim light) much better than ours.  The tapedum lucidum bounces light back to be absorbed by the rods that would otherwise be lost.

So, while we can see more color, trust your horse to safely carry you home if you find yourself in the dark!

Winter Weather Beauty Treatment

If you are anything like me, you dread the winter months because of what they do to your horse.  No baths, longer hair, snowy, muddy and messy.  Sometimes just a small beauty treatment can make your winter fuzzball look less like a neglected backyard pet and more like a presentable, well-loved, four-legged friend.

GQ, my handsome guy, doesn’t have the luxury of a stall.  He lives outside all year round and because we get some cold, unpredictable winters, I don’t have the luxury of keeping him clipped and show-ready like I desperately wish I could.  I often find myself telling him, “You look like a hooligan!” and then it gets followed up with a mini winter beauty treatment.  Here are some of the things I do to keep my horse looking presentable during the winter:

Clip those whiskers!  Use your clippers with a light touch to skim off extra long nose whiskers.   Since the hair on his muzzle is a little longer, you don’t want to apply as much pressure as normal or you’ll come away with uneven, goofy looking patches on his nose.   Keeping the clippers moving downwards in the direction of the hair will also reduce your chance of making patches.  Also trim off the long scraggly pieces of his beard under his chin and jaw.  This takes a little more finesse to make look even, but your horse will look so much more put together without 3 inches of hair hanging off his chin and also makes it easier to tighten your nose band for a ride.

Keep a bridle path!  During the winter months when GQ’s coat is long, I use scissors to trim his bridle path.  If your horse does not stand quietly, I do not recommend trying this technique!  I ask him to put his head down, (which is a convenient trick I will address in my next post!) and trim his bridle path until it is even with the coat on either side.  I trim off any obnoxiously long pieces of fuzz and taper it so that there is not a giant divot on his poll where I’ve taken the bridle path down to the skin and left his winter coat long around it.  If you don’t trust your horse to stand nicely for you to use scissors, use your clippers with light pressure and don’t clip all the way to the skin to avoid that divot!

Make that mane even! Since GQ is outside all the time, I don’t want to shorten his mane as much as I would during the show season/warmer months.  However, I still want it to look even and well-maintained.  A long scraggly mane is one of the biggest turn-offs on a horse in my opinion.  Make sure you comb out your horses mane at least once a week and keep it pulled/trimmed to an even level, even if you want to keep it a little longer for some extra warmth. [Make sure to give your horse a good scratch at the crest!  Almost every horse I’ve met gets super itchy there–especially in winter! =D ]

Tidy up the ears! I don’t want to completely expose GQ’s ears to the harsh winter weather, but I do want them to look nice and neat.  To tidy up the ears, I pinch the edges together, which forces the extra long hairs to stick out and I clip those hairs.  It is amazing how such a small action can make your horse look infinitely more presentable.

Whip out the Show Sheen! Actually, any product that says it “conditions” will do.  I actually use Cowboy Magic Super BodyShine because I like the smell a little better than Show Sheen and its a bit cheaper, but they share the same principle: Add shine to your horse’s coat, repel dust and condition the coat.  If your horse wears a blanket, this is especially kind for him because he’ll get pretty static-y and dry under those covers.  Use a spray like one of these to help relieve the static shocks your grooming tools will cause and pull dust out of deep layers of that winter coat.

Cowboy Magic Super Bodyshine

Absorbine Show Sheen

Santa Fe Coat Conditioner

Clean those hooves!  With horse feet, you’re kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place because lack of moisture in the hot summer months creates problems, but excess moisture in snow and mud can also damage your horse’s feet.  At least once a week, use a stiff brush to get debris off of the hooves and clean them as well as you can.  A lanolin-rich product like Corona can replace some of the nutrients that the excess moisture saps out.  You don’t want to use a sealer though when your horse has been standing in water or mud because you can inadvertently do more harm than good by trapping excess moisture into the hoof.

Corona Ointment (My FAVORITE!!!)

Try some of these tips to keep your horse from looking like a hooligan as you wait out the cold and your horse will look presentable and loved all season long!

Corona Ointment

If someone were to say to me “What is one product you could not live without in your grooming kit?” I would not even hesitate before replying, “Corona Ointment!”  If you aren’t familiar with this product, I’m going to introduce it to you, because it is one of those products that can be used safely for  a wide variety of ailments in your horse.

Corona Ointment is a multi-purpose ointment which is effective in healing minor cuts and scratches, locking in moisture, easing sunburn and chapping, etc.

It is a lanolin-based product.  Lanolin is great for hair, skin and hooves and is gentle on wounds, which makes it an effective, pain-free option for cuts and scrapes.  Although Corona does actually make a hoof ointment which is very high in lanolin-content to lock moisture in hooves, the regular multi-purpose ointment is also a great product to massage into dry or brittle hooves.

GQ, my horse, has typical Thoroughbred feet.  If you aren’t familiar with TB feet, here is the short explanation: They are HORRID.  TB’s tend to have thin hoof walls which makes holding shoes an adventure and predisposes them to a variety of foot issues.  GQ has to go barefoot in the summer because with the flies he will stomp his shoes off within a day.  When he has bare feet, however, they get very dry and short.  At least once a week, 2 or 3 times if possible, I clean his feet off with a stiff brush and moderately damp towel then I massage Corona into the hoof wall, onto the heels and around the coronet band to lock in moisture and keep his feet from drying and cracking.  I am convinced that the Corona Ointment is the only reason I have not had some major lameness issues from cracks that could have occurred due to his hooves drying out.

My other personal accolade for Corona Ointment comes from last summer.  GQ is quite low on the totem pole in any herd situation.  He was bullied by some other horses and ended up need some stitches over his eye and some TLC for a number of scrapes and cuts.  I used corona on the assortment of cuts he had and he healed very quickly and doesn’t have one single scar from the ordeal.

Now, the only con to Corona is that, being an ointment, it will run a little in hot weather and it will attract dirt and debris to it so it needs to be reapplied more often than some other products.  That being said, it is worth the extra effort for the outcome you will see!

So go out and stock up on Corona and you will be prepared for wide variety of issues your horse may face!

 

The Equine Eye: Monocular vs. Binocular Vision and Focus Issues

I believe that a major part of being an efficient rider is to understand how every part of the horse works.  If you don’t understand why a horse is reacting a certain way, you may end up punishing something the horse truly has no control over or brushing off some uncalled for action that is fully correctable.  One of the biggest issues that really bothers me is when people punish their horse for spooking.  Many of the reasons a horse spooks are found in his biological makeup and cannot be altered.

The equine eye is the largest orb found in any land mammal.  Therefore, the horse has the capacity to take in a large amount of visual information at once.  It also means that a horse’s retina (the part that transfers information to the brain via the optic nerve to form images) is much larger than any other land mammal and because of this any object that a horse sees will look roughly 50% larger to him than it would to us.  This is the first reason many things seem scary to your horse.

Now, as (I believe) is common knowledge, horses are animals of prey.  In the wild, they are the ones that are hunted.   Nature, being the wonderful thing that it is, supplied the horse ways of protecting itself.  One of these ways is having a very large visual field.  While most predators like humans, dogs and cats have 180° vision, horses have almost 350° of sight because of the placement of their eyes widespread on the side of their head instead of close together and in front.  However, the horse’s ability to take in so much visual information at once can also make the world seem like a scarier place.  A horse is made visually aware of something by movement, so trail riding on a windy day can make a horse seem a little more jittery than normal because there is SO much stimulating his sense of sight.

Humans are very used to looking at something and immediately knowing, with clarity, what the object in front of us is.  Our eyes have a sort of ‘auto-focus’ so that whether the object is 10 inches or 10 yards away, we can see it clearly by simply glancing at it.  The simple explanation for this is 2-parted:

  • 1) Our ciliary muscle in the eye is well-developed.  That’s the part that adjusts the shape of the lens allowing us to focus.  It works quickly to let our eye focus immediately.
  • 2) Our retina, like many mammals, is smooth and concave, allowing for even focus in the eye.

The horse has an incredibly underdeveloped ciliary muscle.  This means that it takes much longer for a horse to focus on something than it does for us.  Imagine the speed of using auto-focus on a camera instead of manual focus.  Also, the horse’s retina is concave, but the surface is not smooth.  This means that some parts of the horse’s eye allow for better focus and clarity than other spots, which is why a horse may lower or raise his head, or weave his head side-to-side when he is trying to see something.

Not only does the horse have to work hard to focus, he has to figure out what exactly he needs to focus on.  The human eye sees with binocular vision, meaning that our brain gives us 1 single picture from the information that both eyes take in.  A horse has a small binocular field of vision, but roughly 270° of a horse’s sight is monocular.  This means that the horse’s brain is receiving two images at once because each eye is sending a different picture.  Imagine watching side-by-side television and trying to focus on both pictures at the same time.  It is nearly impossible to clearly see one picture or the other without turning your head to look directly at it.  This is the way a horse’s vision works.  His field of binocular vision begins about 6 inches to a foot from his forehead and extends in front of him.  Keep in mind that those 6-12 inches are a blind spot, which is why a pat between the eyes may elicit a flinch or even full-fledged spook.  His monocular field of vision surrounds nearly the rest of his body, except for a small blind spot just next to his flanks and directly behind him.  By turning his head he can eliminate the blind spot on one side or the other.

The basics of how a horse sees

Knowing how a horse sees affects the way that we work with them.  Don’t get mad at your horse for spooking at something because even though you recognized it right away, it may have taken your horse by surprise and looked scary and fuzzy to him.  Always work from both sides of your horse so that he is used to a motion being performed on each side of him.  Because of monocular vision, an action done on one side will become an entirely new experience on the other side because the brain is getting a whole new set of images from the opposite eye, so don’t expect your horse to be perfect as soon as you change direction or sides.

Patience is key when it comes to effective work with horses.  You and your horse are capable of great things if you take the time to understand him!

Happy Trails

There is nothing more dangerous or annoying than a person who is unaware of proper trail etiquette.  To be fair, there are some things that many people do not think about while having a lovely ride on a sunny day.  Here are some of the basics to remember so that your trail experience is pleasant for both yourself and the people you ride with and encounter on the trail:

  • Stick to the edge of the trail.  Even if you can’t see anybody in either direction, its wise to keep your horse towards they side of the trail.  Bikers and joggers can come up quickly, seemingly out of nowhere.  Avoid collisions or a spooked horse by allowing room for other trail users to pass without issue.
  • Always walk when passing someone.  Whether you are passing another rider, a bike rider, walkers or joggers, take the pace down a notch.  By slowing your horse down to a steady walk, you allow him to evaluate the situation and will have less chance for a negative reaction from him.  If your horse spooks while you are passing someone, it becomes dangerous for both yourself and the other party involved.  Keep it safe by slowing it down.
  • Ride to the ability of the least experienced rider in the group.  If you are in a group of riders, no matter the size, do NOT do anything that any single person in the group is not comfortable with.  For example, a group of 4 riders go out and 3 of them are comfortable doing walk, trot and a little canter if there is a clear patch (which I will address later) but the fourth rider is not comfortable doing more than a little trotting here and there.  Don’t bully the fourth rider into trying to canter.  By asking a member of the group to do something they don’t feel comfortable with, you put everyone in the group at risk .  Ride to the lowest ability level or find a different group to ride with.
  • Along with the previous point, do not be afraid to admit that you don’t want to do something on the trail.   Your group should respect your request and not push you.  Gently remind them that you feel you may compromise the groups safety through a particular action and that you just want everyone to be safe and smart.
  • If you are going to head out on trail in a group, determine the ability and comfort level of the participants BEFORE leaving so that there are no shocks on the trail.
  • Do not canter in groups. Unless you are a very experienced horse person and everyone with you is also very experienced, avoid group canters on trail.  Horses are competitive by nature and will often try to be in the lead.  This can cause matters to get out of hand and cause injury.  If you are alone, and you feel like you just have to get in that one good canter, do it in an area which you can see for a good distance in each direction and only canter if there is no one within sight.
  • If it is starting to get dark when you are on the trail, make sure you have a flashlight and reflective vest so that people can see you.  This is especially important if you have to cross any roads to get to/from your trails.  There are reflective bands that you can put around your horse’s fetlocks as well, which may be useful.
  • Keep your cell phone with you in case of emergency.  Whether you keep your phone in your saddle bag or pocket, let it always be easily accessible in case something comes up.
  • Fly spray your horse and bug spray yourself.  The bugs can be much worse on the trail than anywhere else and I don’t know a single person who wants to be eaten alive while trail riding.  If you are focusing all of your attention on obnoxious bugs it leaves little ability to focus on what is going on around you.
  • Wear a helmet.  I know that it may seem silly on the trail, but you never know what is going to set off your horse and how he will react.  It only takes a fall from 3 feet to make someone a vegetable or kill them.  Protect your head!

I’m sure there are things I missed out on, but think these through and just remember to use your brain on the trail.  If you have to think about whether or not you should do something on the trail, its probably a fairly good indication that you shouldn’t. Best of luck and fun to you all! Happy Trails!

Wash Stall Woes

Even though it is coming down to the end of the summer, there is still a little time to get in that last good bath before hunkering down for the long, bath-less winter. Unfortunately, some horses love that winter period when they aren’t asked to go near that awful wash stall.

What can be done for a horse who doesn’t want to get in the wash rack for a bath? Here are a few tips to try. Depending on how stubborn your horse is, be prepared to spend a good amount of time with these to find one (or a combination of several) that works for you and your horse.

  • For ANY horse that isnt’ keen on jumping right into the wash stall, be certain to stay relaxed and patient and allow him to take his time.
  • Some horses get nervous if the washstall is dark and/or small and confined feeling.  Make sure all of the lights are on, so that the wash stall is as bright as possible and clear as much away from walls and off the floor as you can to make it feel like your horse has a ton of space to manuever.
  • Be willing to let your horse check out the wash stall.  Ask him gently to take a step towards it, then release pressure and let him adjust to the ‘new’ surroundings.  Then ask him to take another step with just enough pressure that he knows you are asking him to move.  Let him take a few minutes to discover that the wash stall is not a pit of doom and that he will be safe.  If you let him investigate, you might be surprised at the willingness to walk into the wash stall that he exhibits when he realizes he won’t be eaten by it.
  • The easiest thing that comes to mind for a horse that is merely apprehensive about the washstall is bribery.  Get a bucket of oats or treats or grab a handful of rich alfalfa and hold it just out of reach in the wash stall for your horse.  Give a small nibble then pull it back a little further, coaxing him further in.  Do this until he is standing with all four feet in the washstall, and give him the rest of the snack.
  • My horse would not walk into a wash stall head first if his life depended on it.  Instead, I turn him around and back him into the wash stall and then he is fine because he does not feel boxed in.   If your horse backs fairly well, this is an easy way to eliminate the feeling of confinement which seems to bother many horses.  Just line him up and back him in!
  • If you and your horse have a relationship built on trust and respect, then he is most likely willing to follow you wherever you lead him.  However, even the most loyal, well-trained horse who never acts up may show resistance to following you into a wash stall.  You can ‘trick’ him into following you in though by blindfolding him.  ***You have to make sure that you are super aware of both you and your horse’s surroundings to make sure that he is not going to trip on a ledge or step, fall in a hole, or run into a wall.  Use a towel tucked into the sides of the halter (don’t EVER tie anything over the horse’s eyes) and practice just walking him up and down the aisle and getting him to trust your leadership.  If he is smart, he’ll know where the wash stall is in relation to where you put on the blindfold, so take a little walk before heading straight in.  Take your time.  It is understandable that your horse may move a little slower than normal since you have suddenly taken away one of his senses.  Once you end your blind walk in the wash stall, reward him with a treat and a calm rub then take off the blindfold.  For one particularly stubborn horse I worked with who would not tolerate being in the wash stall for ANY reason, I actually left the blindfold on when I gave the bath.
  • Use a different water source.  Some barns have a hose outside that is not in a wash stall.  If it is nice outside, find a patch of grass to let your horse munch and just give him a bath out of doors to eliminate the wash stall altogether.
  • If you can have someone help you, you can actually annoy your horse into the wash stall.  One of you should stand in the wash stall, holding the lead rope.  You want to have mild pressure, but not be yanking on the rope.  The second person stands behind (and off to the side) of the horse and uses a longe whip behind the horse.  Some horses just need to see the whip to go forward.  If your horse is not one of those, then take the whip and gently tap the hind legs above the hocks.  The key to this is that the whip is meant to annoy, not harm the horse.  The whip is acting as a guide saying “MOVE.”
  • Some horses might walk into the wash stall, but don’t like turning around.  That’s fine! Give your horse his bath backwards.  At my barn we have a set of rings at the back of the wash stall in case people don’t want to turn their horse around.  Then they can just moved the quick-release cross-ties to the back rings and not have to fuss with trying to get their horse to turn around and face the big open space he could run out into very easily.

Use one or two of these methods and hopefully your horse will be squeaky-clean in no time!

Nothing seems to work?  Email me and I can help you form a specific plan for your horse to help get him in the wash stall:  kristen.wieland10@gmail.com

Confidence is Key

It is natural for every horse person to feel slight apprehension at doing something on or with their horse which has previously not had a pleasant outcome.  However, what many people don’t realize is how strongly our apprehension can affect our horse and the performance they give us after that point.  For example, say you are a trail that you have ridden on without incident more times than you can count, but one day something unforeseen scares your horse and he leaves you sitting in the dirt while he high-tails it home.  It is only normal that you would feel a little timid at that spot or throughout your ride the next time that you are out on the trail.  Unfortunately, if you get tense, so will your horse.  It is very important to look at each ride or time spent with your horse as a fresh start.

Your horse will react to your emotions and feelings.  That is because your body automatically (and sometimes involuntarily)  conveys your mood and emotions.  If you are nervous, your muscles tense and your body curls in on itself ever so slightly to create a barrier  against the thing causing the nerves and to give you a “safe” space.  Your horse will be able to feel that defensive position that you are in and become tense himself, since [clearly] there is something to be nervous about near him.  So if you are nervous when you go back out on that trail, fixing the problem from last time will be infinitely more difficult than it should be since your nervousness will likely cause an unwelcome reaction, which could in turn just make you more nervous.  Thankfully, the opposite is also true.  If you are relaxed and confident, your posture will straighten and your muscles will relax. A horse will be much more willing to cooperate when he senses this confidence.  If you go back onto that trail with the mindset that it is a new day and this is a new experience, your horse will be harder pressed to find a reason to balk.

One of you has to be confident in order to accomplish any task.

Most of the time, the confidence is left to you since you are the one capable of thinking through a situation all the way to the outcome(s) and acting on a continuing train of thought.  So how will you know if you are ready to go back to that scary trail? After a scary, unnerving or traumatic experience, go back a few steps in your training and skill set.  Either go back to the arena and work on something you can do well to build your confidence back up or handwalk your horse out to that scary spot and work through the issue from the ground where you may feel more comfortable and more at ease in handling him if he gets snorty or spooky. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed to give yourself a pep talk before returning to the scary obstacle and focus on breathing deeply and steadily to keep your muscles relaxed.

Remember, each ride is entirely new, even if its a ride you’ve done a hundred times before.

Think about the times before that you’ve done that particular thing successfully.  If you’d never attempted it before, the give yourself a pat on the back for trying and take what your learned from the experience to make it better for the next time.  I guarantee that when you get past the nervous bump, the personal reward of accomplishing the task successfully will be the thing that sticks with you for the long haul!

Training isn’t that scary!

Many people think that training is something that they could never do themselves. What many horse owners don’t realize is that every single thing you do with your horse is teaching him something.  You are a trainer, whether you want to be or not! That is an intimidating idea for some people, so I am (hopefully) going to make it seem a little less scary with this little concept:

Effective training gives your horse two options.

Option A: Your horse does what you are asking him to do and is rewarded by not having to work too hard in getting that reward, which may be release of pressure, a treat, simply letting him stand still, etc.

Option B:  Your horse does not do what you want him to do immediately and therefore has to work much harder to come by the reward, until he figures out that Option A is SO much easier for him. For example, you want your horse to lead politely next to you instead of dragging you all over the barn, so you ask him to walk next to you, then stop, which he doesn’t think is something he needs to do immediately, and he yanks you several more feet before deciding to stop.  Your response should immediately be to turn around, become large and in charge and make him walk backwards briskly to the spot where you wanted him to stop, then release pressure and let yourself relax to let him know “this is good”.  Backing is hard work that requires a lot of muscle, so it is a good way to discipline your horse through hard work without being mean or overbearing.  He might pull one or even a few more times, but after this harder option occurring, each time will get better until he does what you want [Option A].

Horses are very smart and very reward driven, so when he figures out that Option A gets a quicker reward, it will become the standard instead of the exception.

  • Just remember that you have to respond to anything he does wrong (or right, for that matter!) immediately! Horses have a 3 second window during which they will connect your reaction to their action.  After that, anything you do serves no purpose.

Stretching is Fun!!

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.