Sort of a spin-off: How to loosen up a stiff spine
I was reading yellowbritches' post for inspiration, but my issue is a little bit different. My guy is 18 and on cool, damp, windy days, he feels it. He's coming back into fitness after an injury and is exactly where he should be given his time frame, but when it's under 50 degrees, he's very, very stiff through his spine from poll to tail. Lateral work will be very good for him... except he is so stiff that it's hard for him, so he tenses his muscles, pulls his head up, hollows his back, and locks his jaw. That helps him lots! I wouldn't call him a tense horse so much as he carries tension, if that makes sense.
Before I ride, he gets a thorough grooming, does carrot stretches left and right, and on cold or damp days, wears a heating pad over his SI joint for about 15 minutes. (His SI gave him trouble in the past; knock wood, it's doing well now.) He gets a stretchy warm up walk for 10-15 minutes and then a short stretchy canter before active work- I try to do this outside the ring, but footing hasn't really permitted- and I do as much lateral work as I think he can reasonably do to try to loosen his muscles under saddle. (Left bend, right bend, a little shoulder fore each way, a couple steps leg yielding... more if he can, but I take what he gives me.) I've got a call in to the vet for his next Legend shot and his routine body work (he responds well to chiro and acupuncture.) Trying to find a Back on Track to borrow at a friend's suggestion.
How else can I help him loosen up? Looking for both under saddle and out of the tack suggestions. Some of this is age, some of it is learned resistance patterns, and some of it is coming back into fitness.
"I'm not always sarcastic. Sometimes I'm asleep."
- Harry Dresden
I am a HUGE fan of handwalking a horse like this before riding. Fifteen minutes, walking forward in hand--at good clip, all business, no dawdling, get that back SWINGING--can do some amazing things. You might even try walking him with a hot towel on his back or in a back on track sheet to really warm things up.
I do in hand shoulder turns - holding the reins at the bit, close circling around me, asking her to step under herself from behind and cross in front, smooth switch of rein and direction - three times either direction. Longeing on a spiral - 15 feet brought in to 10 feet and back out again, then a warm up with bendy loops or serpentines. My horse takes a full half hour from the in hand to the serpentines to warm his back up. Once done, his ride if much better and he is much happier and enjoys the workout. If I omit this, then I take care to do a good amount of bendy stuff until he is a gumby before much work. I usually try to do the whole warm up several days in a row and only omit it irregularly.
"If you're ever sad, just remember the world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie."
~Dean Podestá Original quote
Spiral in and spiral out of a 20 meter circle, first at walk, then at trot, then at canter. Flex down, now inside, now outside. Make sure to engage those haunches. Also, change speeds up and down, especially at the trot. Pat, pat, pat. Stretch.