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Stretch, Supple, Strengthen

The philosophy of Stretch, Supple, and Strengthen (SSS) is the key to proper development of the horse. By adhering to the exercises involved with SSS, riders can help their horse perform to the best of their ability. Using these methods will lead to a more relaxed, capable, and willing partner in all riding endeavors.

The following is quick overview of each phase.

Phase 1: Stretch

Stretch is the first vital phase in the Stretch, Supple, and Strengthen process. In the beginning of this phase, the horse is asked to lengthen its stride in the walk and stretch its neck as long as possible. Once the horse is comfortably swinging in the walk, they begin to breathe and function aerobically. This aerobic exercise puts less stress on the horse’s muscles, joints, and heart and allows the horse to use itself more completely in a relaxed manner. By allowing the neck and head to stretch down, the horse can lift its back and propel itself forward more correctly from the hind end. In technical terms, the horse is asked to lengthen its anterior and posterior muscles while the medial and lateral musculatures are also stretched. Once the horse has experienced the rewards of this phase, they will ask to repeat these movements in every gait and stage of work. The Stretch phase of SSS helps to relax the horse and prepare them for the upcoming phases of Supple and Strengthen.

Phase 2: Supple

In the Supple phase of SSS, the horse is asked to move on a circle. The horse may then be asked to lengthen the outside muscles and shorten the inside muscles or, alternatively, to shorten the outside muscles and lengthen the inside muscles. Other, more complicated suppling exercises involve leg yields in which the horse is asked to move away from the inside leg and rein. By bending the horse’s neck and body through these movements, the horse opens up their rib cage. This will allow them to breathe more easily, once again contributing to the wellness and performance of the horse. This phase is especially useful with horses that may be unwilling or unable to stretch fully in the first phase of SSS. After using the suppling exercises, the horse will be free to stretch and use itself more properly.

Phase 3: Strengthen

Strengthen is the final phase of the SSS routine and should only be attempted after the other two phases have been completed. The object of the Strengthen phase is to build muscle and strength in the horse. The Strengthen phase can involve riding on varied terrain and work with cavallettis and trot poles. For more advanced exercises, horse and rider can move on to work with gymnastic grids and jumps or the collected, medium, and extended gaits. Each horse’s physical development and mental acuity must be taken into account when developing a Strengthen program.