What’s The Optimal Neck Position Of The Horse?

This questioned was posed on a bulletin board.  The OP had recently been diagnosed with abnormal curvature in her cervical vertebrae and it brought to mind for her how the horse’s neck might be affected by a rider working against the horse.  Rolkur anyone?

Jrga responded to the question and graciously agreed to have it brought over here for further discussion.  Here is the response:

There is no optimal position of the neck, as it is meant to be flexible and move in different ways to accomplish different things for the horse in nature.

That being said, just as in a human, there are positions it was never meant to hold for any length of time. What is always optimal is that the vast majority of time that the neck is not in any forced position, and that it is ‘stretched’ appropriately to the task at hand.

Mechanically, different neck vertebra are shaped differently, and trying to force movement that is limited by the bone structure will cause catastrophic injuries. The first vertebra is to move up a tiny fraction, and down when released from muscle tension, it is meant to move right or left, ie, flexion at the poll. Note, it is to move right or left, not break down or back to any great degree or to rotate, flexion is not primarily about engaging the first vertebra but releasing it. The second vertebra is the swivel, useful to a horse, not something we wish to engage as riders, ie, to cause head tilt. The infamous third vertebra and the ones behind it can give up and down movement as well as side to side movement. Since the third vertebra bends down by engaging muscles, many pulled upon horses (too much rein, tie downs, martingales used improperly, break the neck at the third vertebra incorrectly. 

If we engage the vertebra enough in ways that they aren’t meant to be engaged, use tie downs and leverage devices to force a shape, then the muscles and ligaments tend to tighten accordingly, reinforcing poor positioning of the vertebra and causing chronic ‘tightness’ and pain, etc.

Deb Bennett gave a lecture at the George Morris clinic this year on biomechanics, and she demonstrated with a skull and neck bones, there are few better demonstrations on how necks work. If they are still there, it would be worth going over the the US Equestrian site and hunting through the video links for those lectures, they are free of charge.

Basically, the combine system of neck bones and muscles work correctly, ie, optimal for horses generally, when the appropriate muscles are engage to stretch the neck out of its resting S curve shape to a flatter shape, which shape actually starts to arch as it stretches to its fullest extent. As the stretch becomes more pronounced and the curves behind the poll and at the base of the neck flatten, the top line (nuchal ligament and muscles) stretch and relax. This produces the greatest flexibilty and strength for the neck, relaxed muscles don’t tear, they move easily. A by product is that the short muscles around the poll release allowing the nose to drop towards vertical. The end result is the base of the neck is raised, flattening the horse’s spine from shoulder to rump as much as possible within the limits of the horse’s conformation, and the neck arches, poll approaches the highest point, there is a hollow gullet below the neck and the nose drops towards the vertical. Raising the back, arching the neck through stretching the top line, is one of the most important aspects of collecting a horse. The single and foremost step is engagement of the hindquarters at the SI, ie, engaging the musculature of the power center to lift its side of the back as well as bring the rear legs under the horse, relaxing the neck so that the base of the neck may raise and the S curve stretch and flatten out, is the second step.

If you pull the nose in, the horse will generally tighten the base of the neck, using the large muscle under the neck, drop the base of the skeletal structure,increasing any tendency to be down hill that already exists in the horse, and hollow the back and make it impossible for collection to occur. The front legs are also affected negatively by this, they can’t swing freely, and the horse drags itself along with its front feet, tightening chest muscles, losing flexibility for lateral work, and stressing tendons and ligaments meant to stabilize the leg by forcing them to function in place of the big butt and thigh muscles in the rear that were meant for locomotion.

No horse was meant to have its neck all arched up in collection all the time, nor pulled back by restrainig hand or devices, if you want to take the do no harm position, long and level is good, but it doesn’t help a horse to counteract the weight of a rider nor exhibit particularly athletic movement.

First link is a skeleton drawing that show the upper and lower curves, an Arab would probably have a more pronounced and longer upper curve in the S, the much desired mitbah that contributes to their swan neck look, an ewe necked horse would have a lower and deeper and longer part to the lower S curve, which is why they bulge out in the under neck and tend to stargaze: 

The second link is a skeletal drawing where the neck has stretched, forming an arch and spine is made level (not all horses will be level even with properly engaging the neck, it depends on how downhill or uphill their conformation is:

Relaxed long and low:

A horse carrying its neck this way is going to be hammer-headed, note there is no turnover at the upper S curve, the spine meets the head like the handle of the hammer meets the head of a hammer:

Relaxed long and low in a real horse, but also note that the rider still hasn’t fully released the neck and note the reflection along the top line, it drops at the withers, by holding the nose too much, the base of the neck has dropped too much given that the horse is in long and low, this is not yet optimal:

A horse similar to the hammer headed look, dropping in the base of the neck, also notice how short the neck looks, it isn’t stretched, this horse looks ‘ewe necked’ but I don’t think in his case it is a natural part of his conformation but a result of how he is typically handled, either way, ths is far from optimal:

This looks like an actual long low base of the neck, honest to goodness ewe neck to me, YMMV, whoever posted the picture captioned it as such, as well:

A nicely built neck, showing long and straight stretch, follow the reflection of light along the top line, ignore the crest, and see that it does not drop from the withers, there is a gullet below (base of neck raised) and a fairly smooth column of muscle at mid neck, showing even without the horse being engaged, note honest flexion, nose to inside but not tilted or nose held in in any way:

Fully stretched and arched neck (on a horse with ‘baroque characteristics”, ie, heavy and muscular with a deep neck, broad back and large haunch, note this is levade not rear, a highly collected movement, hindquarter engaged, neck stretched and handler’s head is in the way, but the nose would actually be slightly in front of the vertical:

This is just ugly, a beautifully built neck being abused for no reason, and won’t create collection, this is pulling that is so beyond not optimal:


I haven’t shown you a nicely optimal neck in a highly collected ridden horse yet, I’m still looking, which is kind of sad. There are some out there, but you have to kiss a lot of frogs first.

I think questions such as these would be a great addition to the blog.  If you have a question, or you have an answer to a question, email to:  thehoovesblog@gmail.com


97 thoughts on “What’s The Optimal Neck Position Of The Horse?

  1. good article on the neck. Would have liked to have seen more riding pics showing right and wrong. If you wish you can use some of mine.

    • Good examples are actually pretty hard to find, but I can bring over my followup from the other site that has a highly collected horse, I will be glad to talk about things people bring to the board as well.

      None of this is intended to pick on people, I had a college professor once who was disappointed in the class performance on an exam, basically everyone failed, and the professor said he was most disappointed in himself because he knew full well that students can’t learn what they aren’t taught. To look at horse movement and training through the perspective of ‘biomechanically’ most effective and in congruence with the way the horse is meant to move may mean that the critic uses words like ‘wrong’ or ‘should never be done’, and they sound like subjective judgments or preferences about discipline. Do not read them that way. Wrong means that it goes against how a horse’s body is meant to move, it strains body parts to the point of inviting injury, pain, and get’s in the way of what the horse is asked to do, those are scientific judgments, not breed or discipline preferences. The rules are the same for every horse, the limits of difference in conformation from breed to breed are really fairly small, add a couple of percentage points of angle, change a measurement an inch, etc. and suddenly you have a different breed from a structural point of view. Just as you can’t type with your fingers pulled back towards the top of your hands by rubber bands without pain and eventual damage, a horse can’t be continually be ridden hollow without eventual damage. That rule applies to all horses in all uses. I have had a horse trained for reining, done cutting, competitive trail, dressage, and even a little jumping over low obstacles, all are fun, all can be done in ways that complement not conflict with the horses’ bodies. That is the standard to learn, do is complement or benefit the horse’s body or does it do nothing to help to all the way to damage it. If you learn what Mercedes is teaching, then you won’t need a fancy trainer to tell you what is right, you will see it and know it. It will let you pick an appropriate teacher, who may not be the most famous or the one that wins all the time. But if you really learn this stuff and accept that it is better to be right, then you will realize you don’t care so much about winning anything but your horse’s respect.

      That’s my moralizing, I will go get a couple pictures.

    • another more ‘spanish’ or baroque looking horse, but highly engaged hindquarter, look at rear foot and weight compared to front weight bearing, neck perfectly arched, loose rein, nose in front of vertical, and the span of the back behind the saddle is flat, ie, raised as level as it can get. The weight bearing difference between the front and back feet, as well as timing of the footfalls is one of the big clues about whether a horse has reached level or collected as opposed to being on the forehand. Clearly this horse has shifted its weight back.

      Nuno Oliveira

      Here is another more modern piaffe picture, a very slight difference in quality, note reins, bit, overall balance of horse and rider:

      a third piaffe, look at neck, leg positioning, balance of horse, reins:


      anoher horse, balance has fallen totally forward, note greater weght on the front foot than rear:

    • this could be any discipline, doesn’t matter that the rider is in western tack:

      the horse is over bent to the inside and breaking at the third vertebra, not properly using the neck with the poll at the highest point, note how far past the inside front foot the inside rear foot is moving, also note the grounded front foot is carrying more weight than the rear foot. The rider may want this horse to come around smoothly in the front end to the right, but it simply can’t, its right front foot, the horse’s weight and the rider’s weight are all on that foot. This is how bad neck positioning with improper flexion can hamper a horse, it cuts of the transfer of energy off the forequarter leaving the horse mired on the forehand. Never try to put the nose somewhere to get a movement, get the backend right, ask the horse for correct flexion (softness not evading the bit at the third vertebra) and the horse will get out of its own way.

    • good rider positioning to let the cutting horse move around, the riders hips match the horse’s hips, weight over the outside hind, shoulders and head coming around with the horse, the horse must pick up and get off the inside hind to come around and then launch off the outside hind. Ideally the horse would have had that inside hind up under him a little more to start with.

    • a horse perpetually overbent at the third vertebra, see the tightness of the muscling, the wasp waist compared to the baroque horse or the well ridden piaffe warmbloods, that isn’t breed, that’s training and gymnastics, see the lack of round full gluteal over the top of the rump, tight hamstrings down the back of the rump, the rear feet not stepping up and under. This horse is perpetually on the forehand.

      • this horse is looking pretty good in this moment, but there are some giveaways that the horse is not encouraged to use himself and carry himself well all the time:

        Note, while the head is pretty much in release, not completely, and that the poll hasn’t dropped below the withers or the nose behind the vertical, as you look down the shadow of the neck muscling, there is a break at the third vertebra, the horse’s body tells the truth, the muscling has conformed to the riding. Also look at the chest and forearm muscling, the chest is narrower at the bottom, puffy muscling, heavy muscling down the inside of the forearm, elbows in close to the body, this horse spends too much time on the forehand. Also note the toes plowing up dirt, this horse is landing too heavily with a tendency to toe strike, all bad as the weight won’t pass evenly over the foot. Also note where the rein is passing over the neck, the bottom of the neck, the lower s curve is the widest part of the neck, if you look at this horse and compare the widest part of the neck to the hip, you can see this horse is built almost level, he has all the attributes he needs to be a good athlete, he could do dressage, etc. very credibly, he doesn’t need to be moving like this, and have his muscles tightening and robbing him of elasticity, or set himself up for hoof balance issues.

    • fairly decent level trot, can’t see neck for main, but shadow of the light seems fairly smooth and uniform, front hoof that is about to land fairly level, not toeing in, and weight slightly to rear, rear leg up under body, weight off the other rear leg instead of dragging out behind, avoid puppy dog hands, hands with thumbs up and with bend in elbows, would give horse more comfortable place to be up front and would probably make this a really nice trot instead of a decent trot:

    • dressage horse on forehand, look at the rearward traction on the reins, neck and head pulled in, throat closed, and weight mired on that front foot

      notice the bulge at the third vertebra, this horse is ridden this way all the time

        • another horse, classical training, look at the chest, how different the muscling is, not puffy, much squarer appearance, not narrowing as it goes down, the fullness of muscling around the loin and the whole haunch, also note weight to the rear, poll at the hightest point, this is a collected trot, not a lot of forward movement more upward movement. This angle also allows us to see the widest part of the neck, ie, pick out the lower S curve, and compare to hip, this horse is uphill,

  2. GREAT post ladies and right on time for lunch. And to see a cowpony neck described as ‘nicely built’ made my day as he’s showing off his neck without undue influence by the rider. I think this ‘natural’ straightening is a great tool to use as it applies to contact riding, how too much can be detrimental. I’d commented in the Wessage post about 2 horses I’ve been riding, both with long, attractive necks and completely different sets. I’m still analyzing the how and why of this. One high set, one low set and how each horse balanced differently, affecting their movement. I can feel the difference in their pivot points at the canter and how they ‘need’ to be in the right place to move well.
    The vertebral influence is starting to make sense to me – slowly. As closed vs open throat recently came up in life, I’ve found it difficult to find horses ridden on contact with their throats open. Even high level dressage horses are ridden closed. Maybe this is something that the reiners loping off contact can teach the modified dressage world. While the dressage world can teach them how to lope properly as many of the horses are forced to go slow, lose their cadence and have too many bumps in their movement.
    While the cow pony’s neck is lengthened and the baroque horse’s shortened, how does this affect the pivot point of the horse? Does this create direct influence on what the pelvis needs to do to keep the horse balanced?

    • the baroque horse’s neck is the most stretched and therefore longest uncurved span of vertebra along the top line, an enigma that needs more explanation of how the muscles work, which would take something even longer with more pictures of various cross sections of muscle layers to explain. For now, assume as you look at the necks, that the highly collected neck with the nose close in to the chest of the horse in levade is the most stretched neck over the top line of the horse. Maybe some day I will be moved to talk about muscles, but be warned, Mercedes has issues with scientific names for muscles, and may barf. 😛

      • Love the barf reference….I may have to join her on that one though! I asked my question incorrectly, try #2: the baroque’s neck measured linearly would be shorter than the cow pony, even though its relation to itself is more stretched, against a ground measurement, it is now shorter. Let’s say the baroque is 2′ from nose to wither and the cowpony is 2’6″, how does this affect the rest of the body?

    • I am not sure what you mean about pivot point, the lengthened neck is a lever with a large weight at the end, biomechanically to leave it out there pulls up the center of the back because of the tension over the withers, but it also means more weight way out in front of the feet, not a particularly athletic position and can make balance more precarious in some ways, long and low can help stretch out the horse after collected work or a long time under saddle, it is good for what it can do, stretch and relax allow the top line . The baroque horse’s neck position is reaching the maximal ability of the spine to flatten and rise to level or uphill, the base of the neck is as high as it can be, creating its own lift for the spine, as well as keeping the weight back instead of way out front, which allows weight to be maintained on the rear more effectively, and also keep the throat open, the stretch to arch the neck like that, instead of pulling the nose in, keeps the throat open.

      • Ok…how to say this. One horse is a cutter, low set neck, working a cow to perfection, S curve flattened and lengthened, poll at wither height, nose poked out. Second horse is a baroque horse on full contact, S curve also straightened but neckset is high, head carraige is high, poll is at chest height to rider, near vertical. Each is in the correct position for the maneuver undertaken. I still feel the center of gravity is further forward on the QH than the Baroque though they both have a raised base of neck. The QH would appear to have more leverage on the remaining body. Will the QH therefore, have to step even deeper under his body to balance? Kind of like the longer the wrench, the greater the torque. Picture a horse tipping over like a teapot spout.

        • ok, so for pivot point you really mean something like the center of gravity. The center of gravity as an analogy has been used for quite a while, but it really means more to a static figure, a rocking horse, for example, than to a living creature on four legs. So don’t think in terms of center of gravity, which will change slightly and really fast as that cutter comes around and out of the ground after the cow. The baroque horse in levade won’t change the way the cutter does, obviously, he will, using the enormous muscle power, lower himself back to the ground and stay collected but on all fours.

          Sometimes the cutter does something similar, it sits on its haunches, and because it is so perfectly balanced on the rear two feet, and optimally positioned to use its neck and forequarter to cut the cow and turn it back without moving much on its rear, that it sits and justs pivots side to side. Because the movement of the neck and forequarter blocks and pushes the cow into a turn.

          This cutter is sitting about as deep as a horse can sit, notice the slight arch to the neck, it is picking itself up off its front feet folloing the stop and preparing to come around as soon as that cow does.


          You can see the cow, it sees the corner man, it sees the cutter, it knows it is blocked to its left, it will come around. Sometimes you time it so perfectly that you are almost straight on to the cow and it is the smoothest and most exhilerating thing to ride, very little movement, easy to sit because you just stay on your seat bones and let the horse move.

          Here the horse is in a little better position to catch the cow, cow hasn’t fully reversed and horse is already better positioned to jump out in front”

          The real difference is something that has been said in earlier blogs, everybody raise their hands if they remember, collection is inimical to speed, speed is inimical to collection. That cutting horse sits on the backend, lightens its front end, pushes out, and most come out prepared to sprint, for that it has to be ready for the front end to help propel, putting weight on the forehand to pull with them in the disunited four beat gallop/run, if necessary. If it has a fully collected neck and must reposition itself, it loses a splint second and the cow. Remember, full collected gaits are slow, with more up than forward movement. The cutting horse is the jack of all trades horse, moving from near maximum collection to near maximum flat racer speed instantly. Quarter horse breeding, the good kind, maximizes biomechanical structures that are near mid point perfect in legs and necks, and absolute perfection in LS joint placement and size of hip. There are some more details, but we haven’t covered those structures yet, so we will leave them for another day. A mid point perfect neck is one that allows the spine to be level when properly engaged and collected, but not so high that the front loading aspects of a sprinter are eradicated.

          some successful cutting stallions, look at neck placement, on high brow cat, high brow hickory, doc’s hickory and doc bar.


          • I have to say that I fully appreciate that you take all breeds of horses into this discussion with their corresponding disciplines. Such a relief from collection only being a dressage term. The collection is different but also very much the same.

            My gelding is cutting / foundation bred – great grandfather names you may know: Okie Leo, Blondy’s Dude, Farafield Star, Doc’s Hickory, Smart Little Lena. If you know these horses you know that he’s an old type – he also carries a decent amount of bone. His fault is length of back – it’s LONG as is his loin. This makes collection difficult but somehow he manages to be a balanced horse, in such that I don’t have to hold him together every second for him to carry himself, albeit at a quicker tempo than WP types. He also has a long neck and this seems to help him move better than he looks like he should. He also has a decent hip and huge stifles – VW bug from behind. Overall though, his confo is far from ideal and he’s a leg mover. I want to dabble in WP (open) and have a long term goal of WD. I’m in no rush, I look forward to the journey more than the destination. Until then I sponge.

  3. should elaborate a bit more, seeing the whole horse with rider so that we can see how the forced neck position affects the whole body also how a good position affects how the body performs.

  4. It seems there is a missing link on jrga’s 9:27pm post about the horse who is always on the forehand. I’d like to see that horse 🙂

  5. The optimal neck position of the horse is how he himself naturally carries it. I know that is not really the discussion here, just the view of a trail rider.

    • That’s incorrect and was why the question was asked because the OP was carrying her neck ‘naturally’, but that wasn’t correct because in that manner there wasn’t enough cervical curvature and so she was having physical problems, which have now led to concentrated physical therapy.

      A horse with a poorly structured neck carries it ‘incorrectly’ based on that structure and that’s not to be promoted. Even as a trail rider you’d want to improve the *posture* of that neck by strengthening certain soft tissue and relaxing others. And since the neck is not static, and the horse’s balance is not static, and the horse’s balance directly affects neck carriage, and, and, and…means the neck is subject to being carried in a contrary position often…even just trail riding.

      Many horses left to their own accord will damage their body either through sub-par structure/conformation or through poor conditioning leading to poorer posture. Just as people will stress their bodies by being couch potatoes OR using their bodies incorrectly/inefficiently, so will horses.

      The way a horse ‘naturally’ carries itself isn’t necessarily and often isn’t the ‘best’ way for that horse to be moving. That’s why we as owners/riders/trainers need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of our horses so that we can gymnasticize them to prolong health and soundness. That’s why we have a training pyramid. That’s why this blog (and others, and forums, and magazines, and books, etc…) exist, to discuss (and pass on) correct training of horses.

    • DItto to what Mercedes said and another link to a picture, three horses on a trail ride.

      The first horse has a long, low set neck, note the sag to the underline of the neck, the knife thin edge to the top line of the neck. The second horse is a very nicely built horse, with a tendency to be naturally uphill, note the nice arch to the neck and the raised tail, this horse is using its body well to carry weight. Third horse is more downhill built but with not poorly conformed aspects to the neck itself. Note the lack of arch, no rainbow to the tail.

      Which horse looks like it is lightest on its feet, shows looseness in the legs, able to pick a foot up and change its direction, which has the least ‘tense’ look to its body?

      The first horse is carrying its head as it is natural to it. But think about what any pressure on the reins from a typical rider is going to do, a pull sideways or back, and that horse will put its nose up and out even higher, there is little communication possible using the reins when a horse’s head is in that position, but worse, much worse for that horse, the intended stretch of the nuchal ligament and the rest of the top line muscling and ligaments over the fulcrum of the withers, never happens, nothing works to help raise the back into the ‘weight bearing’ posture that every ridden horse needs to help protect itself from the strain of the weight of a rider.

      Further, to the extent that the lever of the neck and the weight of the head can be used for balance, this horse cannot easily use it, it cannot pick up the base of its neck in any meaningful way to lift its shoulders and rebalance itself. This means this horse is more dangerous on difficult terrain, not anything you want in a trail horse.

      Now, as a trail rider, you can just avoid buying a horse like this. But this is otherwise a nicely built horse with a powerful hindquarter, and proper retraining of his neck, ie, building the right muscling and the habit of lifting the base of the neck, can make this horse more useful and more comfortable. Not everyone wants to be ‘rebuilding’ their horse. But if we are concerned with the long term welfare of our horses, making the best of their build, and helping them carry themselves properly, saves wear and tear on their bodies, and if we have to sell them or pass them on, they will be easier to handle and ride and be welcome in more homes.

      I will repeat what I said earlier in a slightly different way, if we are here to learn about biomechanics, it is because that will allow us not just to pick better conformed horses, but also to make the most of our current horses, and we do that by helping them move better and build their bodies up, not tear them down.

      • Worthy to note too, the rider of horse 1 is cause to the effect. Sitting heavily on his pockets, more weight towards the horse’s loin, arm ready to make contact with the bit and both will brace. As the rider applies more tension, like on a steep decline, this horse will lose mobility in his shoulders as his nose pops up, neck braces, back hollows more and hind feet scramble to do all the supporting of both of their weight. Not safe.

        • this picture is from a trail riding place that sponsors tours, so I don’t think this rider is the long term problem, this is a poorly formed neck that has never been asked to perform correctly. I do agree this rider lacks the skills and knowledge to improve this horse. But the chain of events you describe when a ‘typical’ rider tries to get this horse to rebalance, on a steep hill, to step up and over an obstacle in the trail, even to slow down, will be to get the horse to hollow more and become more unbalanced, just as you said.

      • OK, I try to learn, but a lot of this just goes over my head. As a life long trail rider, I have always tried to go with the natural movement of my horse, and use varied terrain as part of my riding. Up and down hills, twists and turns, uneven footing, that and always letting my horse have a good roll has, I feel, kept my horses limber.

        • take you time, think on it, come back to the blog and look at things lots of times, go and find your horse’s bones and try to visualize how he is built, what issues he might have. And remember, there is nothing natural about a rider being on a horse’s back, it affects his body and movement in negative ways, the back in a horse was not designed to carry weight. So it sags in the middle of the back (which can cause microtears in the ligaments around the spine leading to a prematurely sway back) to bony changes where the saddle bridges because the back sags.

          So there are good reasons, not to turn your horse into something other than a dependable and enjoyable trail horse, to learn to ask him to carry himself a little ‘better’. What you might find is that once horses learn better posture, they like it, you can see them assume it when playing in pasture because the balance and strength it adds gives them one up over their pasture potato friend.

          • I do see what you are saying, but I do not have the skill, the “feel”. I have always felt that I have had good horses, and have been good at getting them to go down the trail and stay sound at least in to their 20’s. For me to try something different would probably do more harm than good.

        • I’ve been away for a month and am just catching up here – so I don’t know if anyone is still following this – but IMHO – you should be able to find an ACCREDITED trainer to help you out and, if you’d never had the appropriate lessons, take a few. Don’t try to do it on your own – defiantly! But I will say that a well-ridden horse will be trail-sound well beyond their 20s barring some other health issue. I just pretty much retired my senior guy at 37 because he is going blind and starting to stumble. My previous trail horse I had to put down at 26 when she developed some major health issues (still sound though) and my present hunter/trail horse is still competing and looking like a million at 21. I do believe we owe it to our horses to continue to learn to improve their lives.

  6. blondemare says: “As closed vs open throat recently came up in life, I’ve found it difficult to find horses ridden on contact with their throats open. Even high level dressage horses are ridden closed.” This is unfortunately true of contemporary BLD. Horses are drilled as youngsters with sidereins to overbend and break at the third vertebrae because it looks “round” and “pretty,” and then held there with heavy hands under saddle. This isn’t correct training for any discipline; the well-schooled horse should take the head position that you ask for, whether it is relatively open or close to vertical, up or down. The horse that automatically “rolls under” as soon as you pick up the reins has been trained to do this, and it also helps him avoid contact with the bit. I also wanted to add to the dicussion something that I think Mercedes said a few posts back about collection. The important thing in how the horse goes is the balance of weight between front and rear end, and optimizing the shift of weight to the rear for any active moves (piaffe, sliding stop, or just a good balanced canter towards a jump). Good collection will raise the base of the neck, and high collection will tend to close the poll. But people (in BLD and elsewhere) tend to confuse cause and effect, and think that if you close the poll early and completely (that is, make the young horse roll under and go behind the vertical) then you get a collected horse. As jrga’s links make very clear, this just isn’t true at all. Plus once you have a horse that rolls under and avoids the bit, it is a lot harder to get true collection since you have destroyed your ability to communicate different positions through the bit. If you are following a classical progression of training, you wouldn’t even be thinking about the poll until much later in the training progression. You wouldn’t be drilling it with sidereins before the horse is even balanced under saddle.

    • these are excellent points, and almost every thing is right, except, correctflexion and a neck properly stretched into collection does not close the throat, even if the horse’s nose has moved closer to vertical. By taking the loop out of the neck, and creating the arch ( go back and look at the skeleton links), the bones are further away from the horse’s head, and the head should of course remain slightly in front of the vertical hanging loosely from a released first vertebra, hence, nothing is there to press on the windpipe or crush the parotid glands out of place into the neck space, the throat is open.

      Horse’s necks are confusing, what we see from the outside is not what the inside looks like. Study those skeletons, go and find the bones on your horse, practice asking for some different head positions and feel as well as see what you get. You can ask for some nice ‘collected’ arches by practicing with some treats held up and slightly behind the nose (this presumes the neck is relaxed and nose at a fairly forward position while horse is standing relaxed) to see what collected looks like in person, you can ask for raised base of neck on stretched neck, too, you can over curl, and you can get broken back at the base of the neck. Experiment. This needs to become a part of what you see instantly every time you look at a horse.

      • Good points, jrga. I need to think through the words I’m using. I was using “close the poll” as a synonym for “head approaching vertical” to suggest that you could achieve collection with an open poll. But I wasn’t thinking about closing the throat or making enough of an anatomical distinction between what goes on in BLD compared to classical dressage or correct riding generally. Yes, you’re right, if you’ve raised the base of the neck before the head moves toward vertical, there is going to be room for the throat and the chin in there.

        • why not a learning exercise for you, where would you put the dot for the LS joint (ie about 4-6 inches into the body beneath the place where the little hollow between thoracic spine and caudal spine, to the base of the neck of the horse. A picture this small, I might use the straight edge of sticky to show me the line between those points. Is this horse a little down hill as it moves, a lot downhill as it moves? If you have a clear plastic protractor you could actually measure how many degrees downhill. Does the base of the neck seem raised at all to you? Does this horse look like it would be light, easy to manuever? How does the lain to hindquarter connection behind the saddle look to you, a smooth strong connection or hollow/bump?

          Again, I am not going t o measure this against what might win in a AQHA WP class. I am going to measure it against, has the horse been allowed to defend its back and get into a good weight bearing posture that frees its front legs of responsibility for ordinary locomotion, putting the weight into the hindquarter where the big belly muscles and the big butt muscles are doing all the heavy lifting? If that isn’t happening, then maybe you don’t want your guy to look anything like this. But you tell me what you see.

          • I don’t like this horse’s movement at all but I thought his neck / head carriage was ok for his type. I did my homework, findings: about 10 degrees downhill LS to base of neck. Base of neck isn’t raised much but the throat is open. The horse is not driving from behind at all, right hind should be much further forward on the “2” of the stride carrying most of the weight, hock is also oddly over angled. Loin is dipped, longish, not muscled, looks weak. If the rider asked for whoa, horse would stop on its front and would probably struggle with a rollback, the backup would show a lowered head and neck and would probably be crooked. Would look like a wheelbarrow. I do however like this horses’s neck compared to most WP QH’s and the poll height is nearer to wither height. And no, if my guy loped like this I’d be very disappointed in myself.

        • your reply about the horse’s measurements shows on my iphone,but not my computer, so let me answer what I can’t see here at this spot. The neck is the focus of this posting, but it is part of a system and can’t be cut off the horse and said to be functional or good apart from the rest of the spine. So while by the rules of WP in the show pen, that neck is where it is supposed to be and looks good that way, we know that neck is taking us ten degrees below level. If we think about the system of the spine, that is a long way from doing what needs to be done, lift the spine level and allow the horse to come under himself, to get a true lope and not the crippled dog trope. So no, as an absolute, that neck isn’t dong what it needs to do, it’s not looking good. Good is good function.

    • pictures belong in frames, not horses, horses are alive and dynamic, their lives are all about movement. Ask Mercedes that it isn’t about you, it is about the word frame.

      This horse does look better than the other horse. But where do you see the engagement? Because this looks like a leg mover to me, no real engagement here. I know too much movement is frowned upon to win in the pen.

      But without regard to any discipline, just about a horse’s body, what is engagement?

    • I don’t agree that he is built all that down hill. He may not be a saddle bred or top dollar warmblood, but he is more than capable of being uphill. He is moving in a relatively level way, but is toeing in a little more than you would want, hence the big splashes of dust. In his neck outline at this moment, he is fairly well stretched, nose slightly in front of the vertical, but the muscling tells another story. We really haven’t gotten there, and I declined to go into much detail for Blondemare earlier, but the short extrinsic muscles of the poll are overdeveloped, most common cause, a tie down or martingale that is too tight or lunging in sidereins that are too tight and the horse pulls against it. Ideally, a horse that uses its neck well, stretching and lifting the base, develops visibly the tubelike complexus muscle in one smooth line from poll to shoulder. In this situation, the horse is not lifitng the base of his neck as well as he could be.

      He should be worked long and low without restriction on his nose, ie, no pulling him in so he leans on the riders hands and pulls back, no martingales, tiedowns or lunging in sidereins. You need to let the wrong muscles atrophy, he needs to learn correct flexion at the first vertebra/poll. Practice carrot stretches between his knees and around to the side, also ask as I mentioned in an earlier post to actually arch his neck correctly and you will see the tube like complexus muscle bulge. He also needs to learn to back with a relaxed dropped head, slight arch to neck and that will stretch the whole length of the nuchal ligament along his topline.

      He also looks like he needs to learn to bend better throughout his body, if the poll can be released, he can swing through his ribcage better and that will allow him to step up and under towards his midline better. That is engagement of the hindquarters simply put. He has all he needs to be super sharp, just let it happen, don’t try to force a shape.

      With the other picture, which also looks more or less level with a nice release, you mention rocking him back on his hocks, no you never want to try that. It won’t work for one reason. But the way the butt works is a big zig zag shaped spring, the LS joint engages, which closes the angle of the first two bones of what are the hip, which in turn engages the stifle (knee joint) which closes the angle of the femur to the hock and draws the foot up off the ground. So the hock can’t bend more than the stifle, which can’t do more than the LS joint engages the hip by closing the angle. So one loads the spring by encouraging maximum closure of the angles, which means encouraging the rib cage to swing to the outside, and the leg to be placed up and under the midline. This is done by the inside leg of the rider asking the inside rear leg of the horse to come under and forward with the under being more important than forward at first. Eventually you want to be able to lengthen stride, shorten stride and increase engagement or reach out and away from the body in lateral movements. But start with up and under, and this is usually easiest with bend, then straighten, release and allow the big stride.

      Your daughter is riding in a hunt seat saddle in these pictures, if she shows, she will be expected to have low hands, but for what you all want to do, hands slightly higher so the rein is always above the base of the neck as she is training the neck to arch in response to the ask for flexion and no puppy dog or piano hands, thumbs on top, elbows bent and let all the follow come from the shoulders, her arms and the reins belong to the horse, the torso is hers, she uses her core to suggest slowing, a little ask by closing the fingers is the goal for flexion and increasing bend of the neck, asking with the leg for up and under as the inside rear foot leaves the ground gets the body bending. To long a rein is a little better than too short a rein. No rearward traction. Let the horse lift itself up, she can’t pull it into shape, she can only encourage the movement and release him into it.

  7. little better pic he is built down hill so the battle has always been to rock him back a bit more on his hockshttps://fbcdn-sphotos-b-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-frc1/1005657_493113677432580_2035049994_n.jpg.

  8. I find this whole discussion fascinating and enlightening. Your typical Saddle Seat training is absolutely contrary to all of this, with side reins, dumb jockeys and check reins all used extensively in training. Essentially, there is a tough double bit put in the mouth and the horse is pushed up against it until they rock their weight back onto their hindquarters. This enables the front end to be elevated for the desired high action (aided by weighted shoes and length of foot). The typical Saddle Seat horse is high necked/high headed as bred, with a “hingey” poll. Some horses accommodate themselves to these requirements well, as they are built to do, others have massive muscling on the front of the throat and neck and have to have their tongues tied into their mouths. Hollow backs are encouraged, both by breeding and by elevating the tail. I imagine they are viewed with horror by most of this blog’s followers. 🙂
    I am not defending the modern Saddle Seat show ring riding style, but it is an historical style (Park riding from the gilded age) which is followed by a large audience who find it exciting and beautiful. I certainly find it more interesting than a typical WP class. Those make me want to stab my eyes out. At least the Saddle Seat class, however artificial, seeks to capture some of the tail-up, bouncing trot of a horse at liberty.
    It is a commercial enterprise, with the economic drive to get 3 and 4 year olds into a “frame” suitable for the show ring. Interestingly, leg and joint problems, at least with my breed, are quite rare and horses compete into their 20s quite often. Part of that is the fact that they are ridden at very short intervals (to keep them “hot”) and on ideal footing. Primarily, however, the breeders still emphasize good legs under their horses. We do NOT have Halter specialists and National Champion performance classes under saddle require the horses to strip and be judged on conformation as well.
    Taking 6 years or more to develop a horse is not something that most breeders/trainers can afford. However, we are seeing more and more interest in Dressage (as well as Wessage) and Morgans are moving up the levels in small numbers. Happily, they are very competitive in carriage driving singles where there are some whips/owners who have the means and the time to develop them properly.
    Please keep on with the critiques and commentary on various horses. I enjoy it immensely.

    • Oh, what a can of worms you’ve just opened. I don’t have the energy to tackle the topic in this moment, but perhaps jrga will stop by and feel a need. 🙂

    • I never blame a horse breed for what humans do to it. In the 19th century and early 20th century, saddlebreds and walkers were the premier riding horses, many people think cowboys only used quarter horsese, but many a saddlebred and walker worked the ranches as well as being the basic transportation for riders who commuted or worked big farms,plantations, etc. They are riding horses, ie, built level or up hill so that they can more easily carry a rider, be trained to be ridden, etc. Many a famous horse of the 19th century of these breeds (as well as standard breds) commanded huge prices for the times which would rival the value of any top bred horse today in today’s dollars.

      Just to show, bad riding moments are universal over time, a lovely park horse who apparently doesn’t think water skiing on his mouth is a good idea:

      Clearly on the forehand, not moving well, a highly refined animal, but looking at his overall build, somewhat more substantial than today’s saddle breds. All breeds messed about with by humans over time end up losing bone, substance, and if we are concerned with their welfare, we would make sure we don’t lighten their bone. We tend to forget all the ones who retire to a pasture or are put down along the way, and remember the ones who make it through all the nonesense. In the saddlebreds, lordosis, sway back, is an issue, trying to build a horse to move in an unnatural manner, the breeders have created a genetic nightmare. They are not alone, the quarter horses have a couple genetic nightmares of their own, the drafts have their peculiar genetic issues.

      Park Morgans are also beautiful saddle horses, usually with a little more substance. It would be a shame if these animals weren’t bred because of the abuses of breeders and the show ring scaring off potential owners.

      High motion is part breeding, shoulder angles, length of upper leg bone versus cannon will make a horse tend to move with high knee action. Correct collected riding would lose some speed but give all the big motion one could want. Less collection, such as for extensions, would allow the speed, and still give significant knee action. Overangulated rear legs, too long to fold over, are also frequently bred for in the saddle breeds, but that just leaves trailing rear legs. The high tail carriage is a product of collection, one doesn’t need to damage and set the tail in an apparatus.

      Lots of things in the show ring take positive aspects of good riding and then exagerate them into bad riding. America’s saddle horses, the saddlebreds, the walkers, the park Morgans, are all great horses with good minds. We ignore them by and large because of show people who indulge the worst of human nature and most people today see their horses as companions, pets, and won’t treat their horses in the ways necessary to win in park seat. But that isn’t the horse’s fault.

      In the old days, the saddlebreds were trained to the high school, kick ass dressage horses really, a sketch of Tom Bass, a famous trainer of the 19th Century on her, and a photograph of her standing further down in the article, again a refined horse, but with a large hip and deep girth. properly angulated rear legs:


      Another famous Tom Bass trained horse, the grey horse ridden by Buffalo Bill in his wild west show, note the substance, and while he has a high neck set, he can relax and drop his head, just like any other horse:

      gaited saddlebred with Tom Bass riding:

      • This is in the right ballpark, sans the tiny bones.

        This, I have no words for. What is going on here? How does this happen? (and if anyone recognizes any of the smiling faces, feel free to bitch slap them upside the head for me)

        • AAaaaaah! My eyes!! How? Why? My first instinct was to say that MUST be photoshopped. It’s like the Bratz doll of horses…

        • Gee, I think that second horse is a Grand Champion. Looks like Supreme Sultan breeding. Please note the “go-go” elastics on his front legs.

  9. Sorry. I will lose the can opener. I do find the connection between what riders want to do with their horses and the training methods used to be varied and worth a study in themselves.

    • biomechanics is the paradigm, the overarching set of principles by which to study all of those training methods. A training method works with the horse’s body, which as was discussed in some other portions of the blog, working with its mind , or it works against its body, or it is neutral, but then neutral generally isn’t going to bring about change. I wrote a long comment with links, that is ‘awaiting moderation’. While I haven’t ridden saddle seat and have no desire to do so for the ‘show ring’, I have paid some attention to the discipline and the horses. Why I have no desire for the show ring is because what is done is biomechnically wrong, and not necessary to have some impressive movement from such naturally well built to be saddle horses as the saddlebreds and park morgans.

      • It’s approved now. The system randomly picks posts to await approval on occasion. I’d have gotten to it sooner, but was sitting in a courtroom all morning.

  10. I did not recall Tom Bass trained Cody’s horse. The Tom Bass story alone is well worth retelling. Someone should make a movie about him. His old training barn in Mexico Missouri was still standing until it burned down a number of years ago. Some of the hours long contests that the great Saddle Horses were ridden to are hard to credit these days.
    I would really like to have a critique of some Saddle horses, both Morgan and ASB. Speaking of biomechanics, there is a saying in Saddle Seat “The best ones go light”, meaning those with the natural ability do not need the heavy shoeing and foot length to be able to raise their feet and “float”.

      • Mercedes, like many horse people, I know what I like but find it nearly impossible to express in words. This blog is welcome for quantifying what makes a good horse “good”.

    • Yes, Tom Bass is one of the masters. His bit has influenced me in my study of bits for horses. And I say “is” because even though he has passed, he still influences those who study horses.

  11. Blondemare,

    I have a long bodied, low neck set, big butted appaloosa, he has the advantage of having a very well made long back, broad muscling over the lumbar spine area and excellent positioning of the LS joint. Broad muscling, that is flat for a good amount of the width of the lumbar area approaching the point of hip on each side instead of rapidly sloping down ward, is good, it lets you have a strong loin even though the back is long. That is not a formation to worry about, merely to properly exercise and keep in good, limber condition. If the loin muscling rapidly slopes downward from the spine, the horse needs good belly exercise. Western dressage which emphasizes bend, smaller circles than pure rail riding of WP, would be a better discipline.

    The good news is, to make the most of the low neck set, you will ask the horse to learn to raise the base of the neck, which will in the early stages, lower the head and as the horse gets stronger, you can ask him to raise his neck and head correctly to a more ‘dressage’ like position, but he will also be able to hold a longer stretched neck with the base raised to help him lift his back correctly.

    Most people end up working the horse for the pattern in the pattern too much. Bending, lots of circles, serpentines and circling in and out, all engage the hindquarter, IF, big IF, you get proper flexion, worry about the release of the first vertebra, not how high or low the neck is, and work to bring the inside hind, in to the midline, a huge step forward, is not necessary, mid belly is fine, because remember, collection is actually going to result in shorter, more deeply bent steps because the loin will come under, which automatically causes the lower portions of the limb to fold more, loading the spring. In between work on the bending, you will relax the horse again by long forward strides and a long relaxed neck. You may work this way, but this is a more ‘dressage’ way of looking at it, from the original sense of training a horse to be able to collect. A long horse will have to work a little harder than a medium backed horse, but it is possible to put together a very credible looking performance.

    • I have difficulty deciphering his loin, his LS is behind his hip and he’s quite broad. I’m not convinced his loin isn’t poor. Though he will work deep at a lope and feels like he’s lifting his neck/shoulders. His jog is flat and extremely easy for him to do. I took him to a schooling show over the weekend and he won his 3 Western classes. He looks the part but I want more.
      Then there’s the dressage clinic yesterday. Gets my blood going, wanting to make him the best he can be. I already do lateral work, he’s reasonably bendy, but we need lengthening and drive. I like that you stated he may need to work low at first until he builds the strength. I don’t know how to lift him up at a lengthened trot, he wants to stretch out and down and I want to let him find it. I need someone to take pic’s so I can review them. I work the rhythm of the canter, I tend to lift/drive on the “3” of the stride to encourage deep hind without falling on his forehand but push on the “1” or just before. He can balance in a 10 meter circle without falling apart so I believe he’s getting under himself.
      One of the riders at the clinic is approaching third level, teaching lead changes. The instructor had her cantering squares, lengthening and shortening the stride, preparing for changes. I want that control. I also want to strengthen his back as much as possible for his benefit. What are your thoughts on backing for strengthening? I back quite a lot in short interims, maybe 4-8 steps at a time. I ask that he lift his shoulders, drop his hip, dig deep and propel without a pull by me. When he ‘collects’ he can really chug along quite nicely. If anything is stiff, the backup stinks.

  12. There are longer strides, and then extensions which require the ability to collect quite a bit, ie, strength and collection necessary to then move out in a big but still uphill gait at trot or canter. Longer strides to shorter strides is one of the things you can work a couple ways. One is to ride your corners deep and correctly, that is a quarter of a small circle, then come across the diagonal and ask for longer strides. The quarter of a circle is going to help collect, but not over challenge the horse because you are only doing about three to four strides. Work all of this in a snaffle so you can get flexion (curb bits are not intended to created flexion, but stretch of the neck, out and up). Then depending on you arena, work two to three deep serpentines, bending well, straightening, and dropping down a gait when straight, walk to halt, trot to walk at the mid point, properly change the bend going through the lower ‘gait’ and then in each successive serpentine. Never over do a single exercise, work both directions and switch up. Shoulder fore, one foot or about four inches bend of the shoulder to the inside, the hind foot follows the track of the inside front foot, three tracks, (four tracks, stepping to the inside of the front foot, requires more collection, you will graduate to that) you can do a ten meter circle and then not come fully out of the circle on the long side and continue moving straight, one of the best collecting exercises, used by all the great masters. Circling in and out keeping the amount of increase of each circle size equal is another great exercise. Backing on the ground is more likely to down more for your control and building belly muscle (which is what ultimately helps the back). Horse has to be soft, in flexion, and move one clear step at a time, feet up and stepping, no dragging 11’s into the dirt. If the head is up, not lifting the base of the neck you are hurting not helping. Backing is something I would do sparingly under saddle, it is actually fairly advanced. Another control exercise once you’ve built some belly muscle and control is to step one foot forward, then back, two feet forward, back, etc. I think Buck Brannaman has something similar, part of the ‘teeter’ line of exercises. All of this can be done at the walk and will pay off at the canter. Change of bend in shallow serpentine, aka snake line per Ray Hunt, is another good control and balance exercise in preparation for canter departs. Remeber there is always one straight stride in every change of bend, that is your canter change at its most elemental level.

    The real control doesn’t come from one specific exercise, it comes from the clarity of your riding and the precision with which you ask and enforce. That’ s why dressage riders use the letters, you can measure being a step, a half stride or half a ball field off. Proper flexion, where the horse has released his spine to you is necessary before you will get actual control. Remember proper preparation is the first step. If the horse is hollow, against your hand, moving too quickly, don’t ask for more performance, go back and re-establish calm, then flexion and start over. Again, each collecting exercise should be followed by an opportunity to stretch out, go back to a working trot, longer neck, then ask again for a collecting exercise.

    If you need more complicated exercises for collection, fixing issues with lead changes, Walter Zettl has some great stuff in his books and he has some videos. I would avoid anything with Parelli, look for his dressage stuff.

    Congratulations on your wins. And again, conformation is a continuum, perfect might be just in front of the point of hip, excellent in between the point of hip, but a little bit back is still a perfectly serviceable place. The rib placement and carry back also helps, etc.

    • Thank you J, a different repertoire to try – I know we need more changes of gait and I want to get a lead change this year if we can. I also need to work on canter departs – straight. I always move hip first then depart, a very western way, but want to get them straight off the footfalls. All good advice, printed and ready for use!

      I work/train in a snaffle, curb is for pre-show tuning only but I don’t use a noseband. I know this debate has burned hot and heavy on fhotd several times…is there a physical need for one?

      • There’s no reason to move the hip, unless the horse is carrying the haunch to one side, in which case you should already have been moving it all along to get and keep the horse straight. By displacing the haunch, you’re making it harder for the horse to take the lead and it’ll make changes even harder.

        • This is how I was taught, bend the horse in the direction of the lead before the depart – it’s pretty common in western disciplines. It also ensures the correct lead in a reining pattern going from halt to lope circle. Time to up the ante though. No more ‘binky’. 🙂

          • but proper bend doesn’t move the hip over, it asks the inside hind to properly step in towards the midline, bring the path of the front and rear foot into line, overcoming the difference in width of front and rear by placement of the foot,not by making the hip come even further out of the line of travel so that the horse moves crookedly. That is engagement, to do this, the LS joint has to fold, the foot comes not only forward but inwards. The difference between a leg mover and a back mover, as to accomodate the foot moving inwards, the belly has to be moved out of the way, the horse bends through the back and suddenly you have loose swinging movement where the legs are free to come under the horse, all the big muscles, the belly, the butt, go to work. Power. Collection.

            To ensure the correct lead, get correct flexion at the first vertebra, properly bend the horse not move its hip out of the path of travel, sit the outside seatbone, look over the outside ear, and release the horse into the depart by following the head with your hand (don’t have to throw your hand out, just release any sense of holding, breathe out, think move out) as you give your leg cue.

            The only reason for a noseband, not crank, dropped, figure eight, etc., just a plain nose band, is it helps keep you from pullng the bit through the mouth accidentally if you and the horse lose balance or get in a tussle for some reason. A chin strap will do the same thing. In the old days, ie, 300-400 years ago in the baroque age, the caveson ( nose band) had a rein attached, it was used much like a sidepull by the trainer so the horse wasn’t punished by the long shanked curb bits in use at the time if the trainer felt the need to take ahold of the horse’s head for some reason.

          • Bending the horse is different than moving the haunch…Oh, I see jrga addressed that already…so, what she said.

            And yes, I understand it’s pretty common in Western disciplines…doesn’t make it correct. 🙂 And by correct, that refers specifically to the horse, its movement and ability to execute for its benefit. Displacing the haunch for canter departs and lead changes is like putting your foot behind your ear to walk faster.

          • To me, bend has been about moving rib out, hip in, while staying on the same track, except for the straight depart at center as a couple of two-track steps usually happened. It was something that nearly guaranteed the correct lead as did initiating canter as the leading fore hit the ground (followed immediately by outside hind, the departing leg) We did (similar) travers right to travers left to teach lead change and the argument over whether the horse went from one bend immediately to the other bend commenced. They absolutely need to straighten first. Reining required huge body control without the use of the reins. Circles were run with outside leg back to hold the hip, neck rein working the shoulders in/out. Very basic but also very precise responses were needed. And never, ever sit the saddle, stay off the horse’s back! Aiming for spin and pirouette at some point. Can’t hurt to try!

      • Does your horse need a noseband? Generally, no. I’d have to see the horse to really know, but if you do use one, try a simple dropped noseband on your snaffle.

          • There are people who work their dressage/hunters without a cavesson, but they are required for showing so it’s important that a horse be used it.

            The cavesson has a purpose…as jrga talked about. It also served the purpose of keeping the horse’s mouth from opening and possibly breaking the jaw should the horse trip and fall…think cavalry charging across the field of battle, or more in today’s world…horse galloping a CC course, horse jumping a speed round. Most rider’s automatic response is to snatch the reins to try and keep the horse on its feet, mouth gapes in response, horse plows face first into the ground, broken jaw. It has happened, that’s why the cavesson.

  13. Default for low-level BLD around here is flash plus crank noseband, sometimes on so tight the skin on the nose is pinched and the tongue is bulging out, sometimes so loose they aren’t doing much at all. I ask people what their horse would do without its mouth tied shut, and they aren’t sure: “that’s the bridle he came with.” I think crank & flash might be be necessary if you are putting your full body weight on the reins to roll the horse’s head under. If every horse wears them, it levels the playing field so that you can’t see the dfference between light hands and heavy hands, between quietly chewing mouth and jaw wrenched open. So there’s an incentive for the BLD disicpline to promote them as “standard tack” for schooling, trails and shows. I took the plain noseband off my bridle one day when I put on Western tack for a parade, liked how Paint Mare’s (big) head looked that way, and am keeping the noseband safe in my tackroom for the day when we eventually go to a show 🙂 . On another note, re: the discussion about baroque and quarter horses earlier on in this thread. I spent the weekend helping at an Andalusian show. I had only seen a few Andies up until now, and I have to say, despite the apparent difference in conformation, it looks like they can do everything a quarterhorse can do, and then some. The reining class didn’t run so I didn’t see any sliding stops, but lots of popping to a stop from a canter, spins, pirouettes, crazy ability to collect and then dash flat out. And the Aztecas, the quarterhorse/Andalusian crosses, ran the gamut from looking like an Andalusian to looking like a very nice quarterhorse (Andies are still quite rare here. The breeding & crossbreedng might be a bit more indiscriminate in the SouthWest US where they are more common, and I don’t like every Azteca I’ve seen for sale on-line).

    • Andalusians (and Lusitanos) are often quite good on cattle and in other Western events. Remember, they were used (are used) on Spanish/Portugese/Mexican/Brazilian ranches – can we say Vaquero? – and for decades in the bullfighting ring.

      They come out of the womb able to collect to a high degree. Not as fast or as powerful as QH’s, but extremely agile because of their ability to collect so easily, they can get out of situations quickly by pushing off those hind legs that are coiled like springs. Google Merlin on You Tube.

      They tend to cross quite well with QH’s, particularly if the QH is of good quality.

  14. Andalusians imported from Spain were the basis for most baroque breeding efforts such as the Lippizaners. They are also cow horses, bred for the estates where the famous black bulls for the bull fights were bred and raised. Doma vaquera is the basis of much stock horse equitation. Our quarter horses were always heavily influenced by racing breeding, hence the lack of demand for level toplines. Californio and buckaroo (anglicization of vaquera) styles are our stock seat traditions most directly influenced by the traditional spanish working horsemanship.

    Competition horse in doma vaquera, a little jammed in the neck, too much hand in the mouth, but clearly ridden with the intention to be more collected and have a higher head carriage than American reining:

  15. Ladies, great tutorial on canter departures – cow pony had a perfect (I mean hoo ha!) depart to the left, straight as an arrow, no hip. I think he thinks I’ve gone mad asking for drive, contact, moving out. Ears are flicking…pretty funny. His response to aids was better than expected. As I sat back to push all I could think of was the German video on the draft stud…looked around to make sure nobody was watching! 🙂

  16. The most peculiar part of this whole discussion is that the idea that a horse should have a fixed headset is itself not questioned. That is the fundamentally flawed human artifice. Because of the way their vision works, horses need to move their heads to see properly. That is one reason jumpers raise their heads high before a jump…so they can judge height and distance. Head set depends on conformation, movement, muscular development, and terrain. It should vary, and a well trained horse is also versatile. There is an old french term ‘routinee’ that should come back into wide spread use. It means the horse has a predetermined set of moves it can perform in a confined area in a specific amount of time. Taken outside of that situation, the rider might as well start training the horse all over again. Sounds like 99% pf contemporary show horses to me. Poor things!

    • I agree with what you’ve said, except for why horse’s raise their heads before a jump. Typically it’s in response to the rider pulling on the reins in an attempt either rate the horse’s speed and/or stride to put the horse is the optimal takeoff spot. Horse’s actually see, judge, size up and memorize a jump 3-4 strides out. The horse does not see the jump directly in front of it, that’s a blind spot. Lifting the head or dropping the head doesn’t suddenly change that frontal blind spot on a horse.

    • the most peculiar part to me is that you believe that I said anywhere that a horse should have a fixed headset when the first sentence was that there is no one optimal position of the neck, that it is flexible for a reason as it must move in many ways for a horse.

      And then I went to great pains to explain that one should never set a head, one should encourage the horse to raise the base of the neck to level its spine, the weight bearing posture, and the head will fall naturally or rise depending on what happens to the neck, and that we are never to try to put the head anywhere. We are to encourage the horse to use its body appropriately so it is not damaged by the weight of a rider, doing things our of balance or in a forced position out of harmony with how its body works.

      There are numerous references to horses showing the effects of too much hand, artificial devices holding their heads in position, that are all wrong. There is praise for shots of horses who are being allowed to use their necks and free to allow their heads to find the natural position that flows from lifting the base of the neck.

      Much as with trialrider’s objection that optimal neck (and there by head) position is whatever is natural, there was discussion of how some necks are so poorly built, that we should aid the horse to learn a better posture because it makes the horse more able to stand up to the rider’s weight, balance itself, and be more athletic.

      Your comments have stayed on the surface, never absorbing any part of the actual science lessons, or what it is about conformation that affects a horse’s neck position, or that stretch, the opposite of fixing a position, is the single most important factor regardless of the degree of collection required. Congratulate yourself on your superior knowledge when in fact you have displayed a closed mind and less understanding than any of the others who have commented in this thread.

      And to cover another reason that so many jumpers are throwing their heads up, is because, just as Mercedes mentioned, they are being held back and pulled on as they approach the jump, so their necks aren’t in optimal position, they have no stretch, no ability to raise the base of their neck, collect into bascule, so they are horking their heads and shoulders up to get over the freaking jump because of bad riding. The opposite of the lessons of this thread.

  17. This thread is overflowing with information. I will be printing it so I can read it often. I especially appreciate the exercises mentioned. Thanks so much jrga for all the time you’ve put into this thread 🙂

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