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Pilates for Horses - Part 1: Carrot Exercises

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

This is the first in a series of blogs sharing top tip videos and extracts from my book Pilates and Stretching for Horses. As we are all restricted in what we can do with our horses at the moment, these are exercises which you can do with your horse at home. First we will look at the basic principles of stretching correctly. We will then focus on 2 carrot exercises: Carrot Low Between the Front Legs and Carrot Low to the Side.

 gillian higgins horses inside out pilates cover photograph

Stretching Exercises for Horses

The main objective of successful training, whether for horses or humans, is to achieve the best possible performance, improve athletic ability and keep the horse injury free. Trainers, vets and therapists are becoming increasingly aware of the advantages of stretching as part of a training programme and many sports therapists perform stretching as part of their treatment. Maintaining a healthy musculature, flexibility and suppleness is an important factor in reducing the risk of muscle or tendon damage.

As longer muscles are automatically more supple, stretching is an important aspect of elongating the muscle fibres and can help reduce injury by lessening the tension on joints, tendons, muscles and ligaments.

Tendons are less elastic than muscles and therefore are dependant on the elasticity of the body of the muscle itself - another good reason for keeping muscles in tip top condition! Proprioception, (body spatial awareness), co-ordination and balance are all vital to good performance. If improvements are made to elasticity, flexibility, range of movement and reflex response time, then the reaction speed of movement is increased, resulting in better co-ordination. Stretching also improves the circulation of blood and lymphatic fluids allowing more oxygen and nutrients to enrich the muscles and for the toxic by-products of metabolism to be removed more efficiently – an important factor in preventing fatigue and reducing recovery time.

Types of Stretching

There are two main types of stretching:

Passive stretches are performed by a handler. The horse needs to be relaxed and confident to achieve these stretches.

 gillian higgins horses inside out pilates stretches passive flexor retractor stretch

Active Stretches require active muscle contraction from the horse to move the body parts and create the stretch himself. Active stretches can be performed during ridden or groundwork exercises, and also with the use of carrots.

 gillian higgins horses inside out painted horse skeleton stepping over log

Cold connective tissues which have low blood saturation can be more susceptible to injury therefore it is absolutely vital that the horse is warm. Never attempt to stretch cold muscles.

How to Stretch:

  • Begin slowly. Unless otherwise stated, once the maximum stretch is reached, hold it there for 5-15 seconds to allow the fibres to relax before taking the stretch a little further.

  • Work a manageable programme into your daily routine

  • Be patient. You will only see the benefits of stretching if you perform the stretches regularly and consistently.

Stretching can:

  • Increase stride length, range of movement, engagement, flexibility, athleticism and suppleness.

  • Reduce muscular soreness, tension and stiffness.

  • Reduce the risk of injury to joints, muscles and tendons.

  • Improve co-ordination.

  • Maintain the current level of flexibility.

  • Increase mental and physical relaxation.

  • Increase circulation.

  • Enhance body awareness.

 gillian higgins horses inside out annotated photograph carrot between front legs stretch

 gillian higgins horses inside out how to carrot low to side stretch pilates annotated photogaph

I hope you have enjoyed this introduction to stretching, there will be more exercises in the next Blog.

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