A new blogging colleague (Hi VC!) has asked for suggestions with how to help her young mare loosen up. She has recovered from Lyme disease and is still stiff in her hindquarters, noticably not reaching enough with her hinds at the trot. I will share a few thoughts about what I might do...
First of all, I would check my own body for stiffness. Even in groundwork, stiffness in my body will be reflected by my horse. There are numerous ways to release stiffness -- sometimes a good walk across uneven terrain will do wonders, as well as yoga and other approaches to stretching and strengthening around all the joints...
Second of all, I would check that her feet are feeling fine. Anything systemic -- illness and/or treatment for illness -- can affect the health of the feet. If the feet are uncomfortable, the rest of the body ain't gonna move well.
I like backing up for many things, especially for strengthening the hind end. Backing up softly, on the flat, on an incline. The soft part is important so start with developing the feel for a back up that feels like you are touching a glider or moving an ounce of nothing on a well oiled surface of ball bearings. Smooth, easy, weightless. Get that feeling on the flat before asking on an incline.
Cavelettis will help a horse reach with fronts and hinds. To be precise, you can trot her on a freshly raked surface then measure her stride and set up the cavelettis accordingly. If she's not used to moving over them, I would start with the poles set at her stride length, and once she's used to them, spread them an inch at a time.
I also like visualizing how I want my horse to move. This requires good observation skills then to see if the horse is making the change you are visualizing. I don't expect these changes to persist at first, but over time they will become more like habit. Assuming I don't drill or otherwise overdo the effort expected. Also assuming I release my horse for making an honest try, for making a change in the direction I'm looking for. I might start with picturing the inside hind reaching 3 inches further for one stride, or something like that.
Turns on the forehand are the lateral workout for the hindquarters, so a smooth, calm stepping over for a step or two or three may be helpful.
Of course massage and passive range of motion of the joints may also help. If there is a good chiropractic vet around, you might get some guidance from her or him how to do this.
Can you pony her out for a fun ride on some trails? If she's willing to walk, trot, canter, she may work some of the stiffness into good condition that way before she is also expected to carry the rider. If she has residual pain in her joints, she might benefit from some herbal pain relief for a week or more or less. I like a devil's claw liquid formula I get at the feed store. You might check with your vet if this is an OK idea after Lymes treatment.
If any readers of this blog have additonal thoughts about this, please share them!