The Neck’s Integrity

I think it’s important to understand basic anatomy to understand what postures are healthy and not so healthy. Training your eye is essential, because there are many postures we can become accustomed to seeing and even think of as beautiful that aren’t good for the horse. Conversely, many postures that are healthy and sustainable for a young, green or weak horse are not fancy and sometimes not as pleasant to see (if you’re conditioned to think of a certain posture as pretty over others). I find people in the dressage world especially to be pretty intolerant to seeing horses noses up or too far down, but let’s look to the bones for an ideal posture.

Can you create a connection with your reins that doesn’t compromise the neck vertebrae? Ideally they should remain lined up. When a horse is brought “on the contact” too soon, the integrity of the neck can be easily compromised. You see the first two vertebrae go down, the third becomes the high point, and with this comes ramifications that aren’t good: a horse’s neck shortened and crammed into their chest, less poll movement, shallower breaths, rigidity in the back, tightness in the SI, limited movement of the hind legs under the body. In other words, this horse is physically incapable of pushing from behind:

For horses ridden this way, long and low is my go to until they can maintain the integrity of their neck on the contact.

Whether your horse’s neck is up or down, on contact or not, I try to imagine the vertebrae. Are they lined up in the posture I’m riding in? If not, I know the effects on the rest of the body a shortened neck has, and I try to avoid it.

As Manolo Mendez often says, “short body, long neck.”

The horse’s neck at rest
The horse in movement with vertebrae in alignment
The horse behind the vertical – first two vertebrae drop down
The lengthened neck shows the vertebrae in alignment
Long and low allows the horses’ neck to stretch and therefore the back to loosen

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