It's important for anyone who works with a horse to understand the function of a horses’ back, so he/she can protect the horse from long-term injury and avoid self-injury or death when riding or driving. In this blog post, the locations and functions of the nuchal funicular ligament and other ligaments of the horse's top line are discussed.
The nuchal ligament has an attachment right at the horse’s poll, right between the horse's ears. And it runs all the way down the neck to about the withers. It transfers to the superspinous ligament that runs over the vertebrae in the horse’s back and transfers to the short dorsal sacroiliac ligaments. The function of the ligaments is to hold bones together. When the horse is in its natural head down position, the back is in it’s relaxed neutral state.
Each vertebrae in the horses back has it's own joint, allowing them to open and close depending on the horse’s body posture. When the horse is in his neutral grazing position the spinous processes are not as open as they could be, so he would not be able to get his haunches under his body to push his back up for optimum movement. When the back is pushed up the spinous processes OPEN allowing him to move his hind legs freely. When the back is down the spinous processes become closed shortening the hind leg stride and in response shortening the range of motion in the front legs as well.
We also know that the vertebrae of the sacrum are fused, meaning they cannot bend. So the only place the horse can bend in the haunch area is at the lumbosacral junction. This junction gives the horse the mobility he needs to flex his stifle and hocks optimally. It also allows him to tuck his haunches in conjunction with lifting his back, which opens the limbosacral giving him the ability to collect, extend and jump. It is important for the horse not to experience any pressure, such as a saddle that’s too long and sits on the bones of the sacrum or a bucking strap used on some horses for training or riding purposes, on his limbosacral junction because it will restrict his movement causing long term injury and trigger his fear/flight response putting you and your horse in extreme danger.
The solution to poor posture in the horse is for him to have sufficient activity from behind as demonstrated in the photo series above. When the horse has sufficient forward activity from behind, he is able to step deeply under himself and push his back up opening the spinous processes. It is important to understand that activity is not speed, but rather the lifting and flexing action of the hind legs. That process gives the horse the ability to bend through his back and his spine opening the spinous processes. For the horse to improve bend, he must cross his inside hind leg to the outside. This helps the horse bend fluidly through the spine without leaning to one side or the other, or wrenching his neck. The underdeveloped horse will require a minimum of 1 year to build strength and skill in this movement.
Observing the photos above, we notice how the horse’s tail has become lifted, that is an indication that the back has become freer for the horse. The tail is not swishing, ringing around or clamped to himself, it is simply lifted up.
We also can note that the horse has his head in a downward and forward position. This is a natural position for the horse and very comfortable for him. Training the horse to move this way and utilizing it in both his warmup and cool-down after sessions, helps him protect his joints over the long term and can eliminate his need for joint injections. It also improves the horse’s posture and strengthens his back for greater competitively in the show ring.
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