“The health of the neck tells the story for the dysfunction in the body, and it’s time we start listening.”
When I’m asked why so many horses struggle with the same problems in terms of break down and rehab, my answer is plainly -
“Most people no longer have an eye for dysfunctional muscle use, and so it continues blindly by well-intentioned people.”
*I simply googled “horses for sale” to pull random photos off of the internet for an educational demonstration of anatomy*
Circled are common dysfunctions found in the necks of the majority of horses in the sports world that are indicative of severe lack of correct development.
I included 2 correct ones (without circles) with no apparent dysfunction to help train the eye to see the differences. So how do they become like this?
To put it simply - The horses are not developed correctly for the job they are being asked to do.
They have not developed a thoracic sling to properly lift and support their bodies, so instead they shove forward and use their precious neck and specifically, their poll as a lever in their body instead of their front limbs.
The atrophy in their trapezius leaves limited to no protection and support for their nuchal ligament, which results in it bulging or breaking.
This directly effects the health of their backs and lower limbs and is the #1 sign I look for when assessing a horse who has struggled with lower limb lameness. The core root of where this comes from in terms of training, is an incorrect relationship to contact.
Horses should not brace against the contact, nor should the position of their head be controlled. The head is always exactly where it needs to be for proper spinal integrity.
(Which is why I’m vehemently against rigging).
Contact, should simply be an invitation for the horse to come back and activate its body.
“The horse is weak and needs to be held up."
Aka - You’re going to ask your horse to stress their neck to its capacity to hold up their front end, instead of taking the time to gently build up their body.
“Hold firmly and drive from behind.”
Aka - The entire power of the hind end is now being held COMPLETELY by a neck that isn’t supported. For the-all to-often-argument that this conformational or because the discipline demands it -
Included in this post for reference is a personal case of a horse that was in the same discipline and in similar dysfunction who we took the time to retrain her body and change her “conformation” and who’s movements are exponentially better as a result. I have added a couple from western disciplines too.
Now, some horses may need more work than others depending on conformation or even birth trauma, but the results if developed correctly should be the same.
The health of the neck tells the story for the dysfunction in the body, and it’s time we start listening.
This is an epidemic across horse training, NOT discipline specific.