Why I Rarely (If Ever) "Flex" A Horse, Part 1: Striving For Stability
Updated: Jan 29, 2019
In humans, we greatly admire flexibility. We think it’s so cool when someone can do the splits or a backbend. However, you know that cringing feeling you might get when you watch a contortionist perform? I get that feeling when I see horses asked to flex their nose to their ribs and hold it over and over. I’ll be addressing the training and in-motion impacts in parts 2 and 3, but today I just want to focus our discussion on the hypermobility issues with this movement.
When a horse is moving naturally, he will (in general) hold his head and neck square ahead of his shoulders. The most variation he will achieve consistently is the bend contained in his thoracic spine (the part right under and ahead of your seat). Now, he might briefly throw his head back towards his ribs to get a fly, or arch his neck playfully towards something, but it’s rare he will hold this beyond a moment, and won’t alternate sides repeatedly. Think of it in the difference in your leg flexibility when you use momentum to stretch rather than a static stretch. You can probably kick your leg higher than you can lift it, but it immediately snaps back.
Don’t get me wrong - your horse should be able to move comfortable within his maximum healthy range of motion. However, this movement is similar to the human splits, although not as extreme. Not only does it not serve much functional purpose for movement beyond looking neat, it can actually destabilize the mechanisms your horse needs to hold his body in balance while moving by over-stretching them and causing hyper mobility. Your horse doesn’t need to touch his nose to his ribs over and over to be “flexible” and “move well”. That level of hyper mobility does not help him, and can hurt him. Do you flex your horse to make them more flexible? I’ll be focusing on “softness” later, so just focus on the flexibility bit for discussion’s sake.