There was a thoughtful question put up in a fb group recently where the poster was asking for diagrams of what muscles in the horses neck should be developed for a correct classically trained horse.
Instead of any of the “experts” in the group answering her question, there was an onslaught of opinions coupled with a shaming tone attached to them.
“Stop being focused on the muscles, be focused on correct training.”
“If a horse is a soft, balanced and using its body correctly the correct muscles will form”.
Was the main gist.
This is fundamentally the crux of where I believe so much of classical training has gone astray.
While I don’t disagree that those are true statements, the truth is that they are purely subjective opinions and feelings.
They are not measurable facts that people can learn to understand to build discernment for themselves.
Many peoples “soft” horses are so heavy in the hand it’s appalling.
But they interpret that as soft, because someone told them that’s what soft was and they haven’t felt true soft connection.
Many peoples “balanced” is a horse that is so codependent on the riders hand that when you give them a buckle-break, they about fall down.
But they interpret that as balanced, because someone told them that is what balanced was and they haven’t felt true balance themselves.
Asking what a correctly developed horse looks like and what muscles are required to be stronger than others to do that, is a really beautiful way to develop an eye for if the current training program you are in is conducive to your horses health and well-being.
Just like learning what a balanced hoof looks like is an imperative way to develop your eye and skills in advocating and supporting your horses health and well-being.
Nothing will ever replace having training and good mentors, and it takes so many years of experience to develop as a horseman, but I do fundamentally believe that everyone is entitled to broken down knowledge to make educated opinions for themselves instead of being at the mercy of the “professionals” and often times - at the expense of their horse.
We are in the generation of people that are asking more questions and trying to learn for better discernment, and that is where change will happen.
Gate-keeping information or listing off subjective opinions because you yourself do not fully understand it is no longer cutting it, and I couldn’t be more thrilled about it.
As far as my thoughts on the neck -
In my experience, the brachiocephalicus and subsequently the majority of the ventral neck muscles work antagonisticaly to the thoracic sling and core musculature throughout the body.
(In an antagonistic muscle pair, as one muscle contracts the other muscle relaxes or lengthens.
The muscle that is contracting is called the agonist and the muscle that is relaxing or lengthening is called the antagonist).
So by asking that muscle to relax, you will visually see the engagement of the trapezius which generally lets you know you’re on the right track.
(I have learned that teaching people a visual aid vs only a feel has been a huge help).
Depending on the current development of the horse in front of you, they may need to school in a balanced long and low for a little bit.
In a well developed neck, they should be able to maintain a soft tone in their ventral neck while having a higher (upper level) head set.
It is really important to note, the health of the neck tells the story of the health of the body.
The two do not work separate from one another.
I do believe, however that the atlas is the gateway to the body (passing through the neck), so as long as we are riding the joints appropriately we can achieve full access to their body.
Developing a horse takes years.
There is no quick-fix.
If you asked my foster-dad, there’s no such thing as a “finished horse”.
Instead, it is a life-long pursuit of the art of horsemanship…
But it doesn’t need to be a confusing one