Stretch As You Ride to Reduce Stress

If you ever go to the barn stressed, then read on, because in this article you will find one simple way to reduce stress as you set the tone for a breakthrough ride.

It is so often that we as riders go to the barn stressed out, uptight, and disconnected… we come to the barn distracted, senses overloaded, our mind on too many things yet on nothing at all. The barn is our reprieve, our solace, or sanctuary…

Unfortunately, we can bring that stress into our everyday rides, and that can make our horses uptight. As horse owners it is our responsibility to keep our horses happy, healthy and comfortable.

If we regularly go to the barn stressed out, our horse begins to anticipate this and they may not want to be a part of it. It carries over to our rides.

When you get on your horse tight in mind and body, your horse instantly picks up on it, and this sets the tone for the rest of the ride. Horses make great mirrors, and sometimes the reflection we see isn’t always the most pleasant.

We all have heard that we need to change ourselves if we want to change our horses. Stretching can be a simple key to profound change.

Stretching horseback is a great way to set the tone for an amazing ride, even if you are having “one of those days.”

When you stretch on horseback you will notice the huge changes you see in your horse as he relaxes and realizes you are making a mental shift.  He may yawn, lower his head, lick and chew, move more freely.  As we relax, so does our horse.

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While experimenting with this exercise, you will notice that the shackles the world puts on you begin to melt away as you connect with the “here and now.”

In doing the exercise not only will you loosen and stretch any tight areas, but you will find an internal connection and relaxation that lays the foundation for a great ride.

Here is a great stretch to help you unwind and connect with your horse.

Summary of Steps:

  1. Beginning at a halt, reach your right hand across the withers and scratch your horse on the left shoulder, reaching further down to increase the stretch.
  2. Reach your right hand back and scratch your horse on the hindquarters.
  3. Switch hands and repeat on the other side.
  4. When you are comfortable you can proceed to do this stretch in forward motion.


Begin at the halt. Once your horse is comfortable, you can continue at the walk. Reach your right hand across the withers, rubbing your way down the horse’s left shoulder.

Begin at the withers and gradually deepen the stretch as you scratch or rub your way down the shoulder. Always watch your horse to see his reaction, stopping at spots he enjoys being rubbed on.

Be aware of the stretch along your back and ribs. Feel and move into the stretch, opening and lengthening your back. Increase the stretch by breathing into your lung on the side you are stretching.

Think of how the space between your ribs is like an accordion stretching and opening. If the horse is walking, let the horse’s movement deepen the stretch.

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Breathe in and out in rhythm with the stride, unlocking any tight areas. Breathe out the tension and stress of the day and breathe in the wonderful, relaxed feeling of connecting with your horse, slowing down, and being present.


Reach back and rub the horse’s hindquarters. Be sure not to surprise him when you reach back.

Gradually, rub your way further and further back, deepening the stretch and allowing the waves of the walk to pass through your body. Allow the front of your body to open and lengthen as you breathe deep into your lower back and belly.

Tuck your tailbone under as if you were a frightened dog, sitting on the back of your seat-bones. Be sure not to hollow your lower back. Instead, open at the hip.


Repeat on the other side.


When you and your horse are relaxed and comfortable you can proceed to do it at the various gaits, or transition in to the rest of your ride.

I encourage you to ask yourself questions.  Questions expand possibility and nurture curiosity allowing us to get the most from the exercise.


Are you staying over the middle of the saddle?

Are you present and in the moment, being sure to remain open and aware of all that is taking place in the here and now?

What does your horse think of the change in your intentions?

What do you notice is different in his body language?

Do you have soft eyes and soft awareness?

Are you building confidence and trust?

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The ribcage is like an accordion. Feel it open and close with the horse’s movement and your own, allowing your ribs to expand and fold.

Let your back be wide, full, open.

Your lungs are like balloons; you suck air in, filling and expanding the ribcage.

“Observe, Remember, Compare” Alexander Graham Bell

As riders we must have this skill, therefore be sure you are making observations about what stretching is doing for you and your horse so you can notice what works best for the two of you.

Horses live in the moment; their lives are slow-paced and they don’t wear wrist watches. When we enter their lives rushed and carrying all of this tension, the horse does not understand how to react to it. Oftentimes the behaviors we see are a result of this.

If you would like to watch a free video, listen to a free audio, and download a PDF to this exercise, visit this link:

For more ridden stretching exercises check out Paula’s new book on Amazon “Stretch To Connect” by Paula Curtis. 

Paula Curtis wants her students to have fun and be creative in their riding.

If you work with the horses mind, the body follows. Paula’s concepts apply and are tweaked to the specific discipline of her student. Her ability to articulate her thoughts and ideas, and develop specific exercises for each student and horse, are a recipe for success.

She has coached students in multiple disciplines including eventing, dressage, hunters, jumpers, gymkhana, etc… Her students have gone on to compete successfully, locally, regionally and nationally.

1 Comment

  1. Birgitta D
    October 2, 2019 / 9:51 am

    Great Article. It’s like attending a mini clinic. I’m grateful for your website.

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