"Poll at the highest point"
There is a lot of classical training around elevating the horses head because keeping the poll at the highest point is supposed to be ideal.
And while I agree it should always be higher than C3 for instance where we see horses broken and chronically behind the vertical, it needs to be said that expecting or allowing horses to hold a higher head set when they are not correctly developed for it is incredibly detrimental to their nervous system as well as the musculoskeletal.
One of the most fascinating things about my research, is how it falls so closely in-line with classical dressage principles, without my ever knowing about them.
On my journey of trying to figure out how to utilize movement to mimic the nerve release work I was doing with my manual therapy, I found similar (though still quite different) movements like the shoulder-in and shoulder-fore.
When I was trying to solve the more long-term issues of why the body was predisposed to nerve compressions in the first place, I found that lack of correct development of the muscles, particularly in the sling, was the core problem.
Over time of studying different disciplines, I realized that the levels of dressage and the movements required within each of the tests were correct in what that body should be physically capable of doing on it’s journey to the highest schools of training.
(Which seems obvious, I agree but it is not the reality that we typically find).
The developing horse should be asked to school lightly in a placement that is conducive for the development of the sling and the topline, so that they can build a neutral spine and be able to correctly work over their back with positive function of the hind limbs.
In my work, we call this Pillar 1.
In the beginning, the head often needs to be quite low in order for the trapezius and other sling muscles to truly activate.
The poll is not always in fact the highest point for some of them, like the sweet horse pictured below.
As time goes on and development comes, the height of which the horse can carry it's head in biomechanically correct fashion becomes higher.
Ultimately being able to hold that grand-prix frame without being in tension.
Because I was chasing the sole thread of supporting nerve function instead of dressage or any set school of thought and because I do not come from an educated background within dressage, I never struggled with the lens of how to remedy the two when I came up against differences.
My only feedback was the horses body upon palpation before and after every session and how over time the body changed toward the trajectory we would like to see in the competition ring.
The horse pictured below is standing in the exact same head placement in both.
“Poll at the highest point”.
In the top photo, we see fairly chronic tension of the under neck, almost creating a ewe-necked look.
This horse is not capable of working correctly or comfortably (arguably the same thing) with their head in that position.
This horse is also struggling from nerve compression through the cervical spine and up into his atlas.
Flash forward to several months of pillar work, and now we see the trapezius filled in (the mane flip really gives it away), the Brachiocephalicus has been able to release and there is more space and function in both the jugular groove and the throatlatch.
Judging by the difference in expression, it's safe to say the pain from nerve compression has been radically alleviated as well!
This horse can hold that position without being in dysfunction.
These are the little metrics that I hope to continue educating people to see so they can hold fair expectations of their equine partners