Taking a bow with Stevi Hillman, or rather her horses, is more than just a cute trick up the trainer’s sleeve. Hillman uses this stretching technique to help loosen her horses’ muscles. Hillman is a firm believer in this technique and says it makes a difference in her horses’ performances.
When Hillman was 12 years old, she wanted to be a trick rider instead of a barrel racer, so her stepfather bought her a 5-month-old Paint horse from the sale barn. Not knowing she was helping the horse, Hillman taught her Paint colt how to bow after she was mesmerized by Crystal Lyons. Lyons visited the church Hillman attended, which inspired Hillman to teach her colt to bow as well.
Looking back, Hillman says she did it because she thought it was cute and funny, but now she realizes she was doing her horse a favor.
“I started out with a cookie and thought, well, how hard could it be?” Hillman said.
Hillman taught the colt to bow by putting the cookie in between the front legs, picking up the inside leg, and putting her shoulder into the horse’s girth area with her outside hand on the horse’s forearm. While applying her weight into the horse and pushing, she makes sure not to fight the horse but encourage it with a slight pull, which makes the horse bow down on its own.
“Bowing them puts them in a very vulnerable position, so you have to start out small and work your way up,” Hillman said. “If you get half way down on one day, then quit on that and try to go further the next day.”
Hillman has seen the results first hand with both herself and her equine athletes. She is a firm believer in stretching because of the difference it makes on her and her horses both in and out of the arena. Hillman takes notes from professional human athletes and says if it is a benefit for those athletes to stretch, then it will benefit professional equine athletes as well.
Bowing a horse not only stretches the muscles but also helps keep the horse in alignment. Hillman says she can tell a huge difference, especially with Cuatro Fame, because it keeps “Truck” free-flowing.
“It is important to understand and know your horse, because not every horse has the same routine or needs the same amount of stretching,” Hillman said. “For example, Truck needs more stretches for his lower back so I stretch him about 30 seconds twice a week for that area, but then “Martini” (Morning Traffic) needs more stretches in mainly the hamstring area.”
Stretching keeps muscles strong, which keeps them healthy. Studies have proven without stretching, muscles can shorten and become tight. This is why Hillman decided it makes sense to stretch her horses’ legs.
“The biggest thing I do on the road is massaging. I bought an Equissager from my chiropractor, Hondo Davis, and I massage religiously,” Hillman said. “You can over do it, because if you get a massage everyday you’re going to be sore. Same thing for your horse.”
Hillman has also noticed running the massager all over the horse’s body at least twice a week has improved the relaxation of her horses. They are sleeping and resting easier on the road, because it increases circulation and blood flow to the muscles.
Taking the extra step by stretching and massaging is Hillman doing what she can to put forth the effort into winning. She says even on the nights where she is tired and doesn’t feel like doing either, she still does because it could improve her time by one-hundredth of a second at the next rodeo. That one-hundredth of a second could be the difference in winning a paycheck or not.
Article by Shelby McCamey, an avid barrel racer and native Texan. Photos courtesy Stevi Hillman.