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Bend It, Stretch It

September 25, 2011

Anne the horse physio pays us a visit to see if she can get to the bottom of Blue’s back problems. To my surprise, my sensitive headshy pony is happy to let Anne manipulate and stretch her quite forcefully, and after a few minutes seems on the point of going to sleep.

Anne soon comes up with a diagnosis. The poorly-fitting saddle has stressed the long back muscles which have gone into spasm, and poor Blue now has hardly any lateral movement in her neck. Anne points out the bulge of muscle at the base of the poll where Blue has been setting her neck against the discomfort.

Anne massages and manipulates, and leaves me with a time for a follow-up visit and a set of exercises to be done faithfully twice a day. A further prescription is no ridden work for a fortnight, but as much in-hand and loose work as I can do.

Exercise 1 is the tail stretch, to free up the long back muscles and encourage Blue to tilt her pelvis upwards and tuck in her abdomen. Feeling very stupid, I ask a friend to hold Blue’s head whilst I stand directly behind her, hold the dock of her tail with both hands and gently lean my weight on it. After a few seconds Blue pulls back against me, which is the sign that one stretch has been completely correctly. I’m to do a set of three twice a day.

Exercise 2 is the carrot stretch, which I’m familiar with. However, it turns out that I’ve spent years performing it wrongly. Anne’s shown me how to slice the carrots lengthways to give maximum space for my fingers. With Blue’s head held loosely by my friend, I position the carrot so that my pony moves her head down, then encourage her to follow the carrot sideways until she’s looking backwards towards her own tail. I’m to repeat this three times on each side, twice a day.

The third and final exercise is the neck stretch, again to stretch her long back muscles. Holding the leadrope myself this time, I use a piece of carrot to bring her head down and low, until her mouth is a few inches from the ground and her neck stretched out to its fullest extent. Again, I need to do three repeats twice a day.

Anne points out that Blue will always be fighting against her conformation, as she has a natural tendency towards being ewenecked and weak-backed. However, these exercises will go a long way towards realigning the back muscles, and after she’s recovered I can do them once a week as a maintenance routine.

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