Baited Stretches: Thoracolumbar Region

Baited stretches can be used to assess the range of motion and fluidity of movement of the trunk by positioning the treat lateral to the stifle or tarsal regions. The quality of the induced motion is observed and distance of the horse’s muzzle from the stifle or tarsus is measured. Normally, horses should be able to readily touch their flank region without any lunging toward the treat.

Diagnostically, the treat is positioned at two different heights and positions to evaluate the flexibility and coordination of the induced trunk postures.

  1. Combined lateral bending of the cervical and thoracolumbar regions: The horse’s tail is firmly grasped with the caudal hand to help stabilize the pelvic region as lateral tension is applied until quadriceps muscle activation is observed. The treat is positioned approximately 24–36 inches lateral to the girth region and the horses’ muzzle is directed laterally and caudally toward the stifle region. Attention is focused on the ability of the horse to touch and maintain the muzzle position at the stifle region.
  2. Combined flexion and lateral bending of the cervical and thoracolumbar regions: The same procedure is repeated, except that the treat is directed toward the tarsal region to induce concurrent trunk flexion and lateral bending. Attention is focused on the ability to activate the internal abdominal oblique muscle and maintain flexion of the caudal thoracolumbar region.

Therapeutically, if the horse has left-right asymmetries or restricted movement, then repeated application of this exercise is indicated. If, after several repeated attempts, an exaggerated or painful response is consistently noted, then referral to a veterinarian for evaluation of underlying back pain or dysfunction is indicated.