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There is no getting around it. The legs of your horse are going to take a pounding. The repetitive nature of training and competition means that his leg muscles are going to become tighter and shorter. This will reduce his stride and can even cause pain. One way to mitigate the effects of repetitive use/overuse damage to your horse’s legs is to incorporate some leg stretches into his work routine.
The Length of Muscles
Repetitive exercise causes muscles to tighten. This tightening is a consequence of an important body reflex, the myotatic stretch reflex (see Reflexes and Stretching below). The length of muscle fibers is dependent on the number of contractile units, called sarcomeres, they contain. Repetitive (or unaccustomed) exercise damages some of the sarcomeres and the muscle fiber becomes shorter. Damage to sarcomeres is the main cause of muscular pain after exercise. For example, you get sore thighs the day after unaccustomed bushwalking in the hills because of this mechanical damage and subsequent healing of the quadriceps muscle in your thigh. As damaged muscle fibers shorten, the sheets of connective tissue, called fascia, which surround them, also become tighter.
Stretching induces muscles to lengthen. Individual muscle fibers grow in length by incorporating additional sarcomeres. Connective tissue then expands, following the lead of the muscle fibers. The lengthening/relaxation response from stretching last around 24 hours. If your horse has limited flexibility it may be necessary to stretch daily in the initial stages of introducing a stretch routine to achieve muscle lengthening.
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