You and Your Horse

Finding your own way with horses

Basics about anatomy and biomechanics – Part 5: The various neck postures

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Basics about anatomy and biomechanics – Part 5: The various neck postures

In the previous part I talked about the neck musculature of the horse. In that blog entry I also mentioned how important it is to learn to see which neck posture is good or bad for the horse, and this I will discuss now in more detail.

By now it is common knowledge that a horse should not have his head in the clouds but should arch the neck and lower the head. Now, this can be achieved mechanically, by pulling the reins or by using side reins, draw reins etc. and, consequently, the horse drops his head. This may look correct at the first glance; however, this doesn’t have any positive effect what so ever.

A horse whose head is forced downwards is not going to move well, the horse will be tensed and cannot use his back correctly (see part 1 of this series: The horse’s back).

The result of such schooling and riding can be seen clearly in the development of the wrong neck musculature. The neck of such a horse will typically show a pronounced lower and a weak upper neck musculature, as shown in this picture:


For you to school your horse in a better way, it is important to recognize good neck postures. So let’s have a look at various necks.

Here the horse lifts his head into the clouds:


The shoulder is locked and the movement range of the front leg is limited. The back is hollowed, the hind legs step short and behind the body. A horse with this head-neck posture will never be able to move correctly with his hind end. In the following picture, Starlet drops her neck from the withers but pulls the nose back (tensing the brachiocephalus muscle = fixating the shoulder):


As a result, the front legs don’t reach enough forward and the back is not raised. Starlet is moving on the forehand.

And in this picture, the head of the horse is pulled towards his chest – unfortunately by now a wide-spread misinterpretation of the “head down” mantra:


A horse that is ridden in this way cannot move correctly and even less so let his back swing in an unconstrained way, not to mention the mental abuse that is taking place (this will be the subject of another blog entry). Meanwhile, many horses are bred in a way that they are still physically able to show spectacular gaits even though they are ridden in a wrong way. However, this doesn’t have anything to do with healthy, horse-friendly movement.

It is said in all sorts of riding principles: The nose of the horse has to be carried in front of the vertical! Only a horse that is ridden with the nose in front can truly be on the bit. A horse that is having the nose behind the vertical is avoiding the bit and limits his shoulder freedom.

No matter how “nice” it looks to the eyes of some people: If you pull the horse behind the vertical you will make him move worse than he is able to and not at all in a correct way! This is true not only for riding but also for lunging.

Here you see two examples of good neck postures. the first is Pepe at the lunge in a long and low outline:


And Aramis under saddle in a working outline, already with a somewhat raised neck:


These horses show a supple neck (even when raised), active hind quarters and a raised back. These are in fact the three characteristics which are crucial for the long and low outline which I will talk about in the next part of this series.

(Translated by Gesine Jiménez Martínez)