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Raising the base of the neck
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Pauline Moore
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 Posted: Tue Nov 13th, 2007 01:13 am
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Wendy - When a horse is ridden in a posture where his head is held in, the base of the neck drops and the back is hollow or 'in extension'.  As you know, this is the exact opposite of how a horse should carry himself but the poor horse has no choice so he does the next best thing which is to try to minimize the damage.  If the horse has a lowered neck base and extended spine, then it is better for him if all his vertebral joints are extended rather than having some flexed and some extended.  Think of your own back - if you hollow your own lumbar spine, you will be more comfortable if the rest of your back is following the same shape, it's not a good posture to maintain but better than hollowing your lumbar area and trying to flex your thoracic shoulder area or hips at the same time.

However, the 'held-in' horse is generally not allowed to extend his whole spine, but is made to 'engage' or bring his hind legs further forward.  There is no coiling of the loins, just a swinging of the limb from the hip joint.  You may have seen these horses at some competition or other, standing on their front legs while their hind legs do a bit of a shuffle in imitation of piaffe - their croups are higher than their withers.  These horses are doing their best to safeguard their spines by using the medial glute where it attaches to the thoraco-lumbar fascia to line-up their pelvis into a matching extended shape.  In many horses the tongue of the gluteus medius goes right back to the saddle area of the back and it's this part that becomes obviously overdeveloped.

My reference for this comes in part from Prof Jean-Marie Denoix, Ecole Nationale Veterinaire, Alfort, France, in his book 'Physical Therapy & Massage for the Horse' 2nd edition, p.50 under the heading 'Extension' - "The (lumbo-sacral) hinge joint also benefits from the powerful action of the middle gluteal; this muscle, via its cranial attachments to the thoraco-lumbar fascia, is used to bring the pelvis into alignment with the vertebral axis."    Prof Denoix' writings on biomechanics blend beautifully with everything taught by Dr Deb - he also writes at length about the necessity for relaxation and mental well-being in every horse as a priority.

Straightening the horse as per suggestions in the Woody papers will benefit every horse.  If you come across a horse with this type of loin muscle development, Wendy, the first priority is to persuade the rider to abandon their current riding style and instead teach the horse how to be straight, then round.  This will allow the horse to abandon his self-protective postures and those bulging loin muscles will disappear by themselves.  Hope this makes sense.

Best wishes - Pauline

Wendy
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 Posted: Tue Nov 13th, 2007 03:50 am
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Hi Pauline,

Thank for the reply.  I have the book I will hunt it out and see if it give me some more insight.

 

Helen
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 Posted: Tue Nov 13th, 2007 05:06 am
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To clarify, Pauline; once straightness, impulsion and rhythm are created (as per "Woody" and "True Collection"), the base of the neck will raise by itself? I understand that it cannot raise without these things, but is it a step further that the rider needs to take, or one that the horse will take by itself?

Val
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 Posted: Tue Nov 13th, 2007 03:00 pm
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Good question, Helen, that's what I interpreted Danee's original question to be asking about.  I tried to write a post describing the actions I have been experimenting with to raise Bye's neck, but it started to sound like a one-two-three, do this twice and hold X seconds, mechanically by rote kind of procedure, when I think what one does depends totally on what is happening right there and then.  And no doubt I am missing something important that would make my description half-assed and misleading, so I am keeping my mouth shut and mind open.  The entire thread has been really informative and fascinating. 

Pauline Moore
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 Posted: Wed Nov 14th, 2007 03:32 am
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Helen - 'Yes' - if we remember that lifting the neck base, or flexing the joint between the last neck bone and first thoracic bone (C7-T1), is the final part of the collection process, and is never done in isolation.  We will already have helped the horse organize himself into the posture where collection is possible by asking him to be straight and asking for enough energy to sustain the muscular effort needed to contract his iliopsoas/abdominal complex - these are the two things we do need to actively influence.  I don't mean 'speed', just that he is attentive and moving actively, not falling asleep,

The experiment I suggested to Danee which can even be done without a bridle, demonstrates that straightness alone will induce the horse to raise his neck base - just a little.  At this stage the neck will be more or less horizontal, but with the slightest arch which may be hard to see at all - in some horses the neck may be lower than horizontal.

I think part of the confusion on this subject arises from the lack of being able to see what a raised neck base looks like.  It is helpful if we permanently eradicate from our minds those superficially glamorous images of competition Grand Prix horses.  They all have the same high head-set but I have yet to see one with a raised base of the neck.  When we truly understand what is happening to those horses, any admiration will be replaced with a deep sorrow.

It is certainly possible for a horse in 'True Collection' to carry his head at the height seen on those Grand Prix horses, but it will not have the same look - the truly collected horse will be carrying his neck further forward, stretching away from the withers as well as upwards.  The extent to which a horse can do this will depend on individual conformation and the level of muscle strength he has attained throughout his body.  Horses with a downhill conformation will not be able to raise their neck base to the same height as a horse with uphill conformation, but that doesn't mean the end result is any less valuable or beautiful - it's just different.

To maintain a high level of collection beneath the weight of a rider, takes enormous strength that must be slowly conditioned over a long time, at least 2 - 3 years of consistent work.  It's the same as weight training for us.  Have you ever seen bodybuilders at a gym?  They'll put a lot of effort into a very short session at one machine, then sit around chatting for 10 minutes before going on to another short session etc, doing this maybe 3 times per week.  Our horses need the same slow build-up, literally one step at a time for both mental and physical wellbeing, with lots of breaks inbetween.  For example, if a rider is out for a gentle 1/2 hr trail ride, she can start by asking her horse to straighten for 1 step only, then let him go back to his crooked posture for 6 or so steps.  Repeat this twice more then let him be for 10 minutes before repeating those 3 single-step sequences.  In the whole 1/2 hr ride, the horse will have made the effort to straighten less than 10 times, but it is enough to start with.

For the weekend rider who only wants to quietly stroll the trails, the degree of collection achieved by having the horse straight for the entire ride, will be enough to keep that horse happy and sound for his whole life (there is nothing wrong with that) but he will never have the strength to maintain a high collection, whatever his level of aerobic fitness.

We cannot expect the green or young horse to be able to raise his entire neck, including the base, to the height that a well trained and conditioned horse can do.  If we want our horses to adopt that high posture, then we must be prepared to put in the time and work over a long period that will give the horse the strength to do so.

Best wishes - Pauline

 

Helen
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 Posted: Wed Nov 14th, 2007 05:09 am
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Thank you for your invaluable insight, Pauline. If you do find a photo or video of a horse with a raised neck base, could you post it here?

DrDeb
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 Posted: Wed Nov 14th, 2007 05:43 am
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Pauline, I also want to express gratitude here for your posts. The perfection of your understanding of the whole process, biomechanics, and physical appearance of collection in the horse is quite rare. Of the many students I have encountered in the past 25 years of teaching, it seems to me that you have grasped this the best. I do not say "understood me the best" because I suspect that all I did for you after we met was confirm what you had already perceived, and then perhaps validate it by supplying a terminology by which it can be expressed.

Danee, I second Pauline's query to you, and to be very clear about it, your post makes me think that you do not really understand what "raising the base of the neck" means. This is the same comment I offered you some time ago regarding "twirling the head". I don't recall if you have attended one of my events in Australia or New Zealand -- if you did, then this is certainly my fault for not having explained things well enough. How we can straighten this out is by having you come back in reply to this with your own description of "raising the base of the neck". Specifically, I need you to tell me the following:

a) When a horse raises the base of its neck, does the poll rise or drop relative to the withers?

b) When a horse raises the base of its neck, how does that change the shape of the crest?

c) When a horse raises the base of its neck, how does that change the width of the neck? Where is the horse's neck the widest (from side to side) when it is NOT raising the base of its neck? Where is it widest when it IS raising the base of its neck?

Helen, in reply to your earlier query: Pauline has correctly (not to mention politely) pointed out "between the lines" that there is no special need to post a photo in this Website of a horse that is raising the base of its neck. Not only are there several drawings and photos in "True Collection" showing this, but my grand old Painty Horse is doing it too. Indeed, after the first year I had owned this horse, it was hard to get on him and NOT have him do it; this is the normal result of correct practice. Luckily for the previous owner, I have never published the photos I have of Painty (with the previous owner riding him) before I bought him. That man had no inkling of how to ride correctly, and so the results he got were neither pretty nor physiotherapeutic.

And Wendy, as to your query: The 'tongue' of the gluteus medius muscle of which Pauline speaks is its anterior portion that reaches forward from the area on top of the pelvis (croup) to overlap the rear one-quarter to one-third of the back. The higher the quality of the horse, and the greater its potential for speed, the longer and larger will be this tongue, which is a powerful extensor of the loin joint (the sacro-lumbar joint). However, part and parcel of this is that if the horse braces this tongue -- bilaterally contracts it -- then it will excessively and inappropriately maintain the back and loins in extension, in other words, it will work with the longissimus dorsi to hollow and harden the back.

I do hope, people, that Pauline's posts will help you all to achieve a clearer understanding of these important concepts. Don't make it harder than it is. One of the best ways (and Pauline has mentioned, one of the ways she also used) to solidify her understanding was to just go out and sit on the pasture fence and watch horses. See what they do with each body part when they get up and play, when they rear, when they canter, when they trot with bouncy joy. This is when horses collect themselves, without caring about our input. These times are every aspiring horseperson's best window into their true nature. -- Dr. Deb

Helen
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 Posted: Wed Nov 14th, 2007 09:49 am
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Wonderful, and thanks to you too Dr Deb for your insight. I was confused by various things said on this thread which conflicted with things written elsewhere; what you said is what I originally thought and I'm glad to have it confirmed. I feel I am slowly getting a grip on the biomechanics of these processes, thanks almost entirely to this website. Thank you all again!

Callie
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 Posted: Wed Nov 14th, 2007 06:53 pm
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The Complexus-

I am just looking for some reassurance that I am seeing the complexus developed on a horse.  I can pick it out of an anatomical diagram, but looking at a real horse is a bit different.  I know what I think is correct, but after Pauline's discription of all the other possibilities, I want to be sure I'm right, LOL!

I would love it if there was a book that showed pics of real horses with various muscular development patterns where the muscles that are developed in the pics are labled, maybe with the horse standing and in motion?  Anyone know of a book like that?  I am not as good at looking at an internal diagram and seeing it on the outside of a horse...

So I am looking at Mike Schaffers website, on the page with the videos, at the second photo down on the right (the one right after the "kisses" pic).  Is that the Complexus in the middle of that horses neck? (here is a link directly to the pic in question http://www.mikeschaffer.com/slinks/butts/indeed_7_29_b.jpg

Last edited on Thu Nov 15th, 2007 01:46 pm by Callie

micol124
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 Posted: Thu Nov 15th, 2007 03:25 am
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Hello, everyone! I am new to this forum, so if I am chiming in and asking inappropriate/already asked questions, let me know!

I wanted to ask on this post, if the feeling of the horse raising the neck is that of going uphill. Sound dressagey, but I have asked my horse to step into the birdle and up, and on a few occasion he has offered more, so I I felt as if his front legs were not touching the ground, and we were literally going uphill. Is this raising the base of the neck?

His poll height did not change relative to the ground, rather the relative height between the poll and the withers diminished, the neck felt more evenly rounded in the topline.
He was incredibly light in the bridle, but we only kept this feeling for a few steps. Is this raising the base of the neck?

Pauline Moore
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 Posted: Thu Nov 15th, 2007 10:07 am
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Thank you for the compliment, Dr Deb - it means a lot to me, but I think you underestimate the extent of your influence, without which I would not have been able to put together so many of the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that is the horse.

This is your real gift to all of us, you've shown us the 'picture' on the lid of the box - explained in easy language how a horse works, what happens under his skin and inside his mind - thus improving the life of every horse within the care of those who listen to you.

I used to think that factory farmed animals had the worst lives, but at least their stress is as short as their lifetime.   For the horse there is no such release.  So many, maybe the majority, endure 20+ years of unrelenting distress - sore feet, mouths and backs, aching bodies, the anxiety of social isolation and the confusion from not understanding what is expected of them by an unpredictable dominant other species - the list is endless.

I know of no-one who comes even close to yourself in terms of single-handedly alleviating the plight of these beautiful animals - because education is the key.  The best way for all of us to honour your gift of knowledge is to pass it on, do whatever we can to repel the tidal-wave of misinformation that swamps the horse world, help our own horses but aim to help others too.

I'm very appreciative for all your generous help and look forward to continuing to learn with you for a long time to come.

Very best wishes - Pauline

 

Pauline Moore
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 Posted: Thu Nov 15th, 2007 10:30 am
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Callie - Yes, that photo shows the complexus quite well, and you'll also notice the concave shape to the underline of the neck.  I can't see clearly enough on my poor quality screen, but it could also show the gap between the jawbone and the first neck bone, although the horse has momentarily tucked his head in a little so I can't quite tell on that one.

Best wishes - Pauline

Callie
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 Posted: Thu Nov 15th, 2007 01:45 pm
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Thanks Pauline- Thats what I thought, but it's always nice to have a little verification.

and thanks for the great posts here as well.

Julie
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 Posted: Fri Nov 16th, 2007 12:02 am
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Hi Pauline your understanding of the horse is obviously great and hopefully more of us can understand more to help the horse under Dr Debs guidance.

Your way of describing the average horses life is ofcourse true and very sad.  The more we can learn the more we can make a difference and hopefully in time others will see it.

Thanks for your input dont stop its helpful.

Cathie

danee
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 Posted: Fri Nov 16th, 2007 05:51 am
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Last edited on Thu Nov 22nd, 2007 01:46 am by danee


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