Later in life you will think back to that time last month when your client’s ornery 21 hand draft cross explained that she didn’t want to wear her new painstakingly forged shoes by casually but repeatedly jerking you into the air and wrenching you into a pretzel. That night you iced and, to be honest, drank an impressive number of [insert your favourite alcoholic beverages here] to medicate the pain, so now it feels ok. But later in life you will remember that time and you will think to yourself, “That. That is why I can’t lift my arm over my head or bend down to tie my own shoes anymore.”
You knew going in that being a farrier was going to be tough on your body (or if you somehow didn’t suspect that, you learned it pretty quickly…). But you probably also wanted a lengthy career and a retirement you could enjoy without interminable pain. Stretching is an undervalued and underused tool to keep yourself in fighting shape well past the time you hang up the apron. Here’s a list of some you can do in between trims, at the end of the day, or any time your muscles get tight. Even if you’re 20 and bulletproof, these are worth your time.
A Note on Stretching: experts advise not stretching at the beginning of any activity. Wait until your muscles are warmed up before you try to stretch them. You’ll get more out of the stretch and decrease the risk of strains and tears. Always stretch gently and never to the point where the muscles actually hurt.
Basic Back Bend
You’re probably doing this one anyway, but holding the correct position throughout will maximize its effectiveness. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and support your lower back by putting your hands on your waist, thumbs in front and fingers towards your spine. Slowly lean backwards as far as you reasonably can and then bring your head back so you can look up at the ceiling/sky or a bit behind you. Hold it for a few seconds and then stand straight. Repeat 5 times and each time try to bend back a little farther.
Knee to Chest Stretch
Stand against a wall and bring one knee up to your chest until you can feel a stretch through your lower back and your glutes. Hold it for 15 seconds, then slowly lower the first knee and repeat with the other one. This one works even better if you’re lying down, so if you get a clean barn floor and a client who’s not real judgey, try it lying on your back.
Try this if you have one side that gets tighter than the other. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. If there’s something you can reach around and grab behind you, you can use it to help you stretch. Otherwise, keep your hands on your hips so you don’t try to use your arms to turn. Try to keep your hips facing front and your eyes level as you rotate your upper body to the right. Once you feel your lower back stretch, hold for 10 seconds and return to face front. Repeat twice more to the right, each time trying to stretch a little further. Then do the same exercise to the left.
One Legged Toe Touches
Another good one if one side of your back carries more tension. Bring one leg up and put it on a hoof stand, hay bale, mounting block or other low, stable object. The other leg should be shoulder-width apart from the raised leg. Slowly bring your hands down between your legs as far as you can to the ground. Hold for 30 seconds, trying to gradually reach further and further. Return to standing and repeat with the other leg.
Tight hamstrings contribute to back pain by putting more stress on the lower back. There are a couple of methods you can use to loosen them up. 1) Cross your legs and gradually reach your hands down to touch your toes. Hold for 30 seconds and return to standing. 2) Lift one leg and put it on a hay bale, anvil stand or the like. Reach towards the extended leg and hold for 15 seconds. Repeat with the other leg. You can vary this stretch quite a bit by changing the arm you reach with, lifting the extended toe up or pointing the back foot towards or away from the extended leg.
Wrap your right hand around your left shoulder, reaching as far as you can towards your spine. Wrap your left hand around your right shoulder the same way. Push your shoulder blades forward until you feel the muscles in between them release. Repeat as necessary.
Slowly bring your chin down as close to your chest as you can. Hold for 10 seconds, and then bring head slowly as far back as you can and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat once more. Then return your head to a neutral position and slowly bring your head over your right shoulder without lifting your shoulder. Hold for 10 seconds, then gently bring your head all the way over your left shoulder. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat once more right to left.
Remember that good posture while you shoe is key. Keeping your legs underneath you, knees bent, hip angle closed and back straight helps your body carry weight more effectively and avoid strain. So does adjusting your working surfaces so you don’t have to bend over. Most importantly, saying no to that one extra trim when you’re tired at the end of the day will greatly reduce your risk of strain and injury. And the fewer strains you have now, the better your chances of tying your own shoes in a couple of decades. A simple retirement goal, but a solid one.
By: Cindy McMann
image 1: Rhona-Mae Arca; image 2: ikewinski (Creative Commons BY)