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Raising the base of the neck
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danee
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 Posted: Fri Nov 2nd, 2007 03:57 am
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Last edited on Thu Nov 22nd, 2007 01:46 am by danee

Ben Tyndall
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 Posted: Sat Nov 3rd, 2007 05:39 pm
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The question reminds me of a dressage clinic I was in a couple of years ago. After about a half hour of trotting circles and getting yelled at, I noticed that the yelling stopped if I twirled my horse's head ever so slightly, to which he would respond by dropping his head. My perception at the time was that any time my horse dropped his head to the vertical, the instructor said "good!" and the yelling stopped. At the time, I assumed that the instructor was fixated on head position, but in the time that has passed since then, and I have learned a little more about what collection is (thanks largely to what I've learned on this website), I realized the instructor may well have not been looking at my horse's head (or neck) at all, but was probably relieved to see my horse trot a few steps with his loins coiled just a wee bit.

I think the ansewr to your question lies partly in your suggestion "I'm sure it has more to do with engagment of the HQ...". The engagement comes fairly naturally once the horse is relaxed and moving straight. Getting your horse moving relaxed and straight under saddle is the big trick for many of us, but it sounds like you are well on your way with that. Increased suspension starts with collection/engagement, but then also requires a high level of fitness, and that  requires lots of consistent exercise and training.

...Ben

diane
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 Posted: Sun Nov 4th, 2007 09:46 am
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danee wrote: SO how does one go about raising the base of the horse's neck?... ...I'm sure it has more to do with engagment of the HQ than it does "head set", but knowing how NOT to do it doesn't exactly tell me what TO do.

Danee, your instincts are on the right track - try this thread: http://esiforum.mywowbb.com/forum1/97.html (Kissing Spine).  There is a fairly comprehensive explanation there without repeating it here.  Along with these pages: http://equinestudies.org/knowledge_base/woody.html and http://equinestudies.org/knowledge_base/true_collection.html

Other materials... the video: Secrets of Conformation Analysis and the DVD set The Anatomy of Bitting (DVD #4)

Pauline Moore
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 Posted: Sun Nov 4th, 2007 10:55 pm
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Hello Danee - Maybe it would help if you think of this question another way:

However the horse chooses to carry his neck and head, is absolutely correct and appropriate for what is happening in the the rest of his body at that particular moment.

This is usually a confronting statement when I'm talking with people on this subject, but I intend it to shock them into thinking of a horse's posture from a different viewpoint.   If a horse is slopping along, half asleep, with his head dangling at knee level, then that is exactly where his head should be for the relaxed shape of his spine at that moment.  There will be little or no muscular effort from the iliopsoas/abdominal complex to support the spine (with or without a rider) so the weight of the head and neck is needed to put tension on the nuchal ligament/supraspinous ligament which pulls the tops of the withers forward and lifts the spine a little.  To make a horse lift his head and neck while his spine is in this posture, would be damaging, he will have no internal protection for his back and will be vulnerable to injury.

If a horse is tense and nervous with his neck vertical and nose pointing to the stars, then that also is where his head should be for the hollow, contracted shape that his spine has adopted.  This in itself does not harm the horse for short periods.  The damage comes when a horse is forced to lower his head (by draw reins, side reins, rider's hands, etc) while his spine is still in a hollow, hammock-shaped posture - he ends up with his spine taking on an S-bend shape that overstresses most of the vertebral joints.

So coming back to your original question, Danee, we need to think about why the horse chooses to carry his head and neck any particular way at any particular moment.  If we want him to raise the base of his neck, then he must choose to do that himself, to the degree that he himself chooses - he will not make a mistake, whatever his choice it will be perfect for whatever his spine is doing.  Our job is to help the horse organize the rest of his body so that he then chooses to lift the base of his neck as the last part of the 3-stage process that we call collection. 

The most important thing we need to do first is teach the horse to be straight whether we are working from the ground or in the saddle.  The horse can do this by himself in the paddock during those fleeting moments of play or display when he takes on a collected posture, but we need him to be straight for the extended periods of our ride or in-hand work.  We can forget about collection of even the tiniest degree until we have straightness.  After that we need to work on strength and energy, slowly building up the huge muscular strength needed for a horse to maintain even slight collection for longer than a few seconds.    Have you ever tried to get a photo of your horse in those moments of spontaneous collection when he's playing in the paddock?  So hard to do because it barely lasts long enough to raise the camera, let alone focus and push the button.

Are you certain that the 5-yr olds you saw were showing the same natural elevation and collection that they would show if playing free in a paddock?  Anything else is likely to be a damaging faux-collection.  If you are not sure, I can give you a few pointers to look for.

Best wishes - Pauline

 

 

Leah
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 Posted: Mon Nov 5th, 2007 12:57 am
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Pauline I would be interested in the pointers you have to offer!

Pam
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 Posted: Mon Nov 5th, 2007 07:01 pm
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Pauline,

Thanks for your explanation!  By the way I did manage to get a picture of my horse at play with his buddy and he is in perfect collection with the base of his neck raised.  It is a sight to behold.  I guess I got lucky there.  I keep the photo on my wall at work and at home so I can have a good visual of my horse in natural collection and know that it is possible, maybe someday from the saddle.

Pam

Pauline Moore
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 Posted: Thu Nov 8th, 2007 01:00 am
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Hello Leah - Took me a long time, years, to get my 'eye in' so I could tell at a glance whether a horse was moving with the natural, full body posture that qualifies to be called 'collection' or whether it was the artificial, imposed posture seen extensively at competitive horse shows that has stolen the term 'collection' and given it a different meaning.

The body of every horse tells a story, the record of what he has or has not been doing over the last few months.  This story is often very different from the one told by the rider.  Just as with ourselves, every muscle that is worked regularly gets a little bigger, the muscles that aren't worked stay smaller and/or flatter.  Many of the muscles the horse uses for collection can't be seen externally, but some of them can be seen and these are the ones we can look for.  The horse does not need to be moving - even while snoozing the muscles of collection will be prominent if they have been used habitually.

The neck is probably the easiest area to look at first.  During collection (even simple rounding where the neck is close to horizontal) the muscle in the centre of the neck bulges in and out with every stride.  This is the complexus (semispinalis capitis) which attaches to the top of the skull, all the neck bones except the very top one, some of the thoracic vertebrae and fascia.  Part of it's function is to help raise the base of the neck, assisting the longus colli group which can't be seen.  This muscle looks like a soft bulge going all the way down the centre of the neck on each side.  It starts at the top not far behind the ears and is about a hand's width at this point, getting wider as it follows the curve of the neck, finally vanishing behind the oblique line of the shoulder, this point being the widest visible part of this muscle.  Some horses, such as those with a downhill conformation who have to work hard to lift the base of their necks, will develop a thick, prominent complexus that you can cup your hand over.  Compare this with most dressage horses who are flat or even hollow in this area of the neck.

It is easy to mistake this muscle for a different one when looking at a moving horse.  Go to any dressage competition and you will see horses in a high 'frame' who have a bulge starting at the top of the neck just as described above, but the bulge does not go all the way down to the shoulder, instead it finishes some 2/3 of the way down, tapering to a point as it disappears behind other muscles.  This is the splenius muscle which does not attach to the base of the neck (C7) as does the complexus.  The splenius elevates the head but has no role in raising the base of the neck.  When this muscle is prominent, it is absolute proof the horse is not raising the base of his neck and therefore is not collected.

From the saddle, looking down at the horse's neck, it is very easy to tell if your horse is raising the base of his neck at all (keeping in mind that the horse can have his nose at ground level and still be lifting the base of his neck).  If the complexus muscles are being used, the neck will look narrower at the top just behind the ears, progressively getting wider as it nears the shoulder, and you will see the comlexus pumping in and out with every stride.  If the horse's neck looks like an hourglass, i.e. wide at the top, then narrowing down to a 'waist' before joining the shoulder, you know the horse is not raising the base of his neck, but is using the splenius muscles, regardless of head position.

Looking at photos is a good starting point, especially if you have splendid snaps of your own horse as Pam does (well done Pam, I envy your camera skills).  Some of those glam horsey coffee-table books have great photos of horses in many phases of natural collection and every dressage magazine will have photos for comparison.  Being an observer at a whole range of horse shows is a great way to learn.  Go to any high-level showjumping comp and you will see most horses showing at least a glimmer of complexus muscle - mostly the same muscles used for bascule over a jump as for collection.   Watch the warm-up ring as the riders canter around, you will see elevation of stride that is beyond the dreams of any dressage rider.    Ditto cutting/reining comps.

That's probably enough for starters - there are plenty more clues I'll write about later if anyone's interested.

Best wishes - Pauline

Pam
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 Posted: Thu Nov 8th, 2007 01:18 am
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Pauline,

Your knowledge base is vast!  I'm all ears for anything else you want to add here.

Thank You,

Pam

Julie
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 Posted: Thu Nov 8th, 2007 01:19 am
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Thank you Pauline for your clear explanation and what to look for.  Am just trying to work on correct twirling and rounding back at moment.  But I am noticing the muscle either side of neck is only there when my horse stretches his neck a little forward and down.

thanks Cathie

Leah
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 Posted: Thu Nov 8th, 2007 11:12 am
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Thank you Pauline!

I am still uncertain whether my horse has been lifting the base of his neck...now you have armed me with some information!

 

Please do continue! I would love more information.

Val
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 Posted: Thu Nov 8th, 2007 08:28 pm
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Leah wrote: Thank you Pauline!

I am still uncertain whether my horse has been lifting the base of his neck...now you have armed me with some information!


Please do continue! I would love more information.


Interesting subject, huh?  I am playing with this same thing.  I can tell when my horse has raised the base of his neck because there is a distinct, discrete sensation attached to him doing it.  It feels almost like a physical jerk or hiccup inside him; not violent, but distinct and unlike anything else. 

I have felt it happen when he was walking or jogging calmly and suddenly had to check out an object at his feet without needing to break stride. Also when he knocks a fly off his chest with his chin.  I learned what it was that he was doing from reading this forum. 

Earlier this summer, on a trail ride I had been playing with leg yielding and one rein stops, he was very relaxed and released all along his topline. We did a lovely jog for a couple minutes where he didn't brace or tense, he just let me feel his mouth with the bit gently. Very pleasant and soft.  The trail gullied out at the end and he stepped up out of the gully at the jog when it was about 5 inches deep. To accomplish this small thng, he shifted his weight back and lifted the base of his neck, and we continued the jog in this delicious and heavenly state.  

As you can tell, we do not habitually ride with him raising his neck. :-(  That's why it's so distinctive to me when it happens.

There was a very good discussion on the old site about how to arrive at this. The original post on the thread was about the website sustainabledressage.com, and the thread wandered, as threads do, to a discussion of release, finding and holding the energy from the reins, and finally how to raise the base of the neck.  I archived it as a Word document, but don't know how to put it here, or if that's allowable. 

val

danee
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 Posted: Fri Nov 9th, 2007 01:10 am
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Last edited on Thu Nov 22nd, 2007 01:46 am by danee

Pauline Moore
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 Posted: Mon Nov 12th, 2007 05:47 am
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Cathie - It's good that you have seen the complexus muscles in action in your own horse, this is an image you can keep in your mind to assess how your horse is progressing, you'll want to be able to see those muscles most of the time when you are riding.

Many horses, for whatever reason, do not have the strength to lift their neck base very far at all, unless they are momentarily turbo-charged from the excitement of play or meeting a new horse.  One of our challenges is to communicate to the horse that we would like him to arrange his limbs and torso into the posture that results in him then raising the base of his neck, but first we have to ensure that he is physically and mentally able to do so.  The head twirling you are already doing is a vital part of the relaxation, or total absence of bracing, that allows your horse to be straight - if he's crooked he cannot raise his neck base, the joints just won't move in those odd configurations.  You'll know your horse is straight when he has no preference for one direction or the other and he will automatically arrange himself into a rounded posture without you doing anything at all - this is the first or tiniest degree of collection where he will have briefly raised his neck base just a little.  From this point on it's a matter of maintaining that relaxation and straightness, and building strength and suppleness - the possibilities are then endless, limited only by our own capabilities.

Getting back to clues about whether a horse is really collected or not, we were talking about the neck area, so before moving on from that region there are a couple of other things I look for.

There's a gap between the edge of the jawbone and the edge of the first neckbone, almost directly below the ears, running  down to the throat.  With the horse standing relaxed, this gap will be around 1, 2 or 3 fingers wide.  In even the highest collection, this gap will widen and look deeper as the head and neck are stretched forward as well as up.  Look through any dressage magazine to see photos of horses who look as though they have a sausage beneath the skin in this area, going right around the throat.  This 'sausage' or bulge, is lymphatic and other soft tissue being squashed out between the jawbone and 1st neck bone, as the head is held in by fixed hands and/or the memory of fixed hands/reins.   The horse kept in this position does not have a raised neck base and is not collected.  Look in a mirror to see something similar with your own neck.  Push your chin away from your neck and you will see a clearly defined edge to your jawbone and a gap between it and your neck.  Now pull your chin and jaw towards your neck, and even a skinny person will see rolls of soft tissue being squashed between jaw and neck - the resulting constriction of the throat feels awful too.

Look also at the shape of the underline of the jaw, throat and neck.  A collected horse will have a soft, open, upside-down 'U' shape at this juncture.  A jammed-in horse will have a sharp upside-down 'V' shape here.  Is the underline of the neck concave or convex?

Moving on to the body, visualise the line of the horse's back without saddle or rider.  Does it sag, following the same line as a drooping belly below, or are both back and belly fairly level as far as the haunches area?  Look at the gluteal muscles of the rump on either side of the croup - they should be softly rounded, not flat or pointy.  I still hear dressage riders & trainers speak of wanting to see muscle development behind the saddle but in front of the croup.  If this area is noticeably higher than the areas immediately in front of and behind it, then the horse is likely using the tongue of his gluteus medius muscles to align his pelvis with the hollow shape of his spine.  These are the horses whose riders struggle to get 'engagement', not understanding that their horses are struggling to save their spines.

Lastly, look at the feet when the horse is trotting.  This takes a bit of practice and some slow-motion film segments really help.  Focus on one diagonal pair of legs, then compare the front fetlock with the diagonally opposite hind fetlock as they land (hopefully together) - which fetlock is consistently lower to the ground, ie. which leg is bearing most weight?

Taken in isolation, none of these clues about collection are conclusive, especially if viewed on a photo, but together they paint a picture that indicates how the horse is using his body at any given moment and also how he has habitually used his body over recent months.

Best wishes - Pauline

 

Pauline Moore
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 Posted: Mon Nov 12th, 2007 06:33 am
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Danee - Sorry to be rather dim, but I'm a little confused about what you are really asking.  In your first post on this thread you referred to the young horses who 'really, really lift the base of their necks' in comparison with photos of Painty, but in your last post you say 'the poll is not really that much higher than the wither' and that they have 'so much muscle at the base of their neck that the scapula and neck tie in together etc'.

Perhaps you are thinking of something completely different, but the complexus does  not blend into the shoulder, there is a defined line where it disappears from view behind the scapula and it's musculature.  I have seen many horses who have hugely developed cervical trapezius muscles which makes the neck and scapula look as though it is all one muscly mass but this is something we definitely don't want.

Given that you have a strong dressage background, I am wondering if you have read the Woody articles and understand that the straightness of the dressage world is very different from the straightness we speak of on this forum?  The former will not induce the horse to lift his neck base but the latter definitely does.

There's a really easy way to see this in action, especially if you can have someone else ride the horse while you watch or failing that, get someone to video you.  You need to know which way your horse leans for this experiment, but let's just assume he leans to the left and flexes to the right.  Have him trot on a large circle to the left on a completely free rein (or bridleless if both of you are accustomed to that).  I'm also assuming your horse already knows the signal to step under with his left hind leg.   The horse will be completely relaxed and happily trotting along in his preferred posture which will be slightly flexed to the right, nose out in front.  At a point you feel comfortable with, ask the rider to signal to the horse to step under with his left hind leg - this should not be a full step across, just a quarter step is enough, about one hoof width.  At that moment you will see the horse swing his head and neck to the centre of his body, his neck will arch very slightly and his nose will be close to vertical, then he will immediately swing back to his right-flexed posture and his nose will return to it's poked-out position.  For that one step, the horse raised the base of his neck because his body was straight (blink, and you really will miss it).   From here we can slowly build up so that the horse will be able to do this twice on the large circle, then three time, etc etc until eventually he can do a whole circle, then later still he can maintain that straight posture while we do other things, laterals etc.   The higher the neck base is raised, the greater the strength needed, the more slowly we aim for that and as always, we release and reward every step.

Once the horse has worked out how comfortable it is for him to be straight, then he will readily offer to raise his neck base - we barely have to ask.  It goes without saying that teeth,  saddlefit and placement, feet - all have to be comfortable as any of these will prevent a horse from adopting a straight posture.

Danee - still photos are a good learning tool in the early stages, but cannot give an accurate picture of how a horse really moves, so I would prefer not to comment on your slide clips.

Best wishes - Pauline

 

 

Wendy
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 Posted: Mon Nov 12th, 2007 10:53 pm
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Hello Pauline,

Could you please elaborate on the "the horse is likely using the tongue of his gluteus medius muscles to align his pelvis with the hollow shape of his spine" comment in your reply to Cathie.  Do you think that the straightening exercise would help this type of incorrect muscle development?

Thanks for your great input.


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