Healing From Forced Longitudinal Flexion

December 6, 2018




  • Understanding relaxation of the neck 

  • Bones of the neck 

  • Help your horse find relief 

  • Exercises to help heal or avoid forced longitudinal flexion 






  • cer-vi-cal ver-te-brae

  • nu-chal lig-a-ment 

  • nu-chal la-mina

  • oc-ci-pi-tal 

  • thor-a-cic ver-te-brae

Relaxation of the neck 

Horses experience tremendous amounts of neck strain from the overuse of the hands, legs, and seat. It's the issue of the rider using the body to encourage forward without understanding where true forward comes from in the horse. Additional strain in the neck may also be caused by the horse himself when trying to avoid the pressure applied by a rider’s hands, body position and overactivity in the saddle or inappropriate use of equipment when he pulls his head in towards his chest. When the horse is ridden behind the vertical line he is always straining the nuchal ligaments and nuchal lamina. The strain is visible at C1 and C2 in most cases (cervical vertebrae 1-2) some swelling can be seen lower down in the neck as well. This is seen as a bulge on the side and/or top of the horses neck. A painful process to endure for the horse which can cause permanent neck and back injury, general asymmetry, leg injuries, and fear.

For a horse to work freely and avoid strain in the neck he must learn to work properly from behind. When he is trained to lift himself forward through his back he is able to find relaxation in the neck muscles. But he must learn to stretch the neck forward and down before he is asked to carry his head up in a working or collected frame. Stretching only has long term benefit to the horse when he is trained to lift his back with a pushing action from behind as discussed in
“How Vertebrae Move in The Back”. From the horse’s forward movement and lift, he pushes his neck out and lowers it for a deep healing stretch. This action in the horse’s body flows the energy from haunches through the body and out the tip of the nose, causing a deep relaxation response. The horse will often relax his throat allowing his head to rhythmically swing or bob, ears may become floppy and the eyes soft, chewing is seen in almost every horse.              

Bones of the neck 

There are 7 cervical vertebrae in the horse’s neck, beginning at the occipital bone of the poll and ending at the first thoracic vertebrae. The bones are held together by the nuchal ligament that runs over the top and by the nuchal lamina that runs in a zigzag from withers to C2. 

Help your horse find relief    

The neck has a number of release points along the horse’s crest that can help relieve muscle stress or spasm. Every horse benefits from a light massage. You will want to carefully experiment to see what kind of hand pressure your horse prefers. This can be anything from air gap, holding the hand a distance away from the horse as discussed in “Relaxation of the poll” or direct “finger pressure” as Jack Meangher, Sports Therapist describes in his book Beating Muscular Injury, in a relaxed environment and with a relaxed hand one can apply direct pressure using the tip of the thumb, tips of all fingers or a braced finger on the points of the neck. Allow the horse to be your guid, if he lowers his head and chews, softens his eyes or stares, yawns or falls asleep you know you’ve helped your horse find a state of relaxation. Direct pressure should always be gentle and never cause you or your horse any discomfort at any time.           
Avoiding over flexion simply comes from an understanding of how your horse generates forward movement when working over his back. To do this learn to work with your horse's movement rather than putting him into a frame. You can help your horse heal damages to his neck from over flexion when you train him to work properly from behind and through his back. Be conscious of your horse's emotional state and help him relax through massaging techniques while you groom him before and after work.




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