Supplement Article To The Supplement Article

I’m indulging Paint Mare’s need to be the center of attention by doing one final installment.  🙂  Lakes thought she’d like to see an above view of Paint Mare’s horse’s loin, as otherwise it appears to be very well constructed.  Here’s that picture.


There is great broadness to the horse’s loin with ribs carrying back well.  It doesn’t get a whole lot better.

In the first supplement article I talked about some musculature issues going on with the horse that I felt could be improved relatively easily.  Paint Mare has included a more recent photo of her horse.

Paint Mare wrote:  The one I sent in was from June 2012, and right now she doesn’t seem quite as muscled up.  But I think she might have lost some of the bad muscling on her neck? She has a groove for her windpipe now instead of a solid mass of neck.

June 2012


Resent 2013


Clearly the horse is better ‘conditioned’ in the first photo and carrying a bit less weight, but I would ask Paint Mare since when has she changed her training and riding approach with this horse.  Based on her comments and the attention she’s paid this mare, the current results are unexpected.

Yes, there is greater definition in the crease in the underline of the neck, but the rest of the muscling isn’t right and hasn’t improved.  Now her neck is starting to look more like a bull neck.  If she was using that neck better, lifting the base of it correctly and dropping her head freely from the poll we would be seeing some of the tubular complexus muscle.  Also the dip would have vanished and the ‘hump’ before that would also have decreased in size, while the flat spot before that, extending to the poll, would have filled in.

It appears as if there’s less muscle bunching directly in front of the scapula, but that’s only because her head is forward and not turned as in the first photo.  The muddy shoulder bed is still there, less defined with the lower overall conditioning of the horse but still there.

She also has more breast muscling, her back is tighter and for a greater portion of its length and her abdominals have weakened and sagged, which gives the impression she’s not as deep through the loin (though she is) and those things are all the result of being more on the forehand.

The other odd difference is that the mare now stands about three degrees more upright through the pastern than she did in the June 2012 photo.  Her coronet band is more horizontal and this change (obviously in her feet – too much heel) has changed her stance in front so that rather than standing ‘in’ the ground, she stands ‘on’ the ground with more tension and rigidity through the front end.

What I think has happened is that this mare has hurt herself.  It’s very difficult to see because of the dark background, but when viewed on my computer at full size there’s a very clear ‘hump’ and ‘dip’ in the back that was not present in the June 2012 photo.  I also noted that the overhead loin views that Paint Mare sent me also didn’t look right, but none are from the best angle to see.  Even the overhead photo I included at the top doesn’t show the kind of spinal definition it should, which also leads me to suspect an issue.


Thank you very much, Paint Mare, for allowing the use of your mare as a guinea pig.

24 thoughts on “Supplement Article To The Supplement Article

  1. Looks like she does have a touch of roman nose. Just a personal preference, but I like a big noble head on a horse like this.

  2. the overhead shot does have some interesting appearances based on the shadows, I would double check the saddle and its fit, balance, etc. it seems to be pressing in on the left more so than the right, rider balance can affect that, causing the padding to compress more on one side, the tree may have so warp or other damage, or the horse may move that crooked, but she squares up fairly well in the photos, I wouldn’t expect to see quite that much difference. There may be some tightness over the loin and a lack of fullness over the back for a mare in good weight. Nevertheless, the way the picture is framed, I wouldn’t want to read too much into it. I agree the neck isn’t showing the muscling and posture of a neck that lifts at the base routinely.

    • The saddle fitter found a bit more dip in the left rear ribcage of the horse, but the saddle isn’t warped or damaged, and was only microscopically asymmetrical if at all. The horse did start out with a lot of resistance to the left three years ago, and it isn’t all gone yet. Rider balance is improving day by day, but will definitely keep checking that 🙂 !

      • horses and humans all have crookedness, humans almost never perfectly balance weight left to right, that takes work to find the problems and constant remedial exercise to fix it, just as with horses. I would never want anyone to look at and think too hard about the ‘butt’ pattern I leave in a saddle, but I do try to address it every ride.

  3. Very interesting and thank you for all the attention, Mercedes! I will get my coach to look at this posting and the photos and discuss all this with her. In Summer 2012 (the glamour photo) Paint Mare had been stabled and ridden pretty much every day for two and a half years. In Fall 2012 she went out to pasture for two months while I got over a broken arm, stayed out a bit too long in the rain, and noticeably lost topline. Not skinny, not horrible looking, but definitely lost muscle, and we both took it easy getting back into work in Dec./Jan. I guess we didn’t really ever put the muscle back on. I was surprised when I compared the photos; I wouldn’t have sent the first if I had known how out of date it was! Nothing like having actual photos in front of you to show you the truth.
    She was also out at pasture for three weeks in Aug/Sept 2013, but I don’t think she changed that much this time. She is due for a trim in the recent photo, which might explain the hoof angles. But certain pissy bits of behaviour under saddle on her part since she came back from pasture do support the idea that she has an injury or a sore spot.
    My main coach (and farrier) has been pre-occupied with setting up her own place for the past summer, and while I’ve been getting lessons from her very capable working student, probably some things have been missed. Also we’ve got a good chiropractor I should call up.
    I think also I might have been overly complacent because most of the other horses I see on a day to day basis are in quite a lot of trouble and pain: tbs and warmbloods with the usual range of competitive-dressage injuries: rein-lame, hunter’s back, bulging throats, really odd wads of neck muscle, etc.
    Again, thank you so much for the comments! I sent the photo in knowing there was a problem somewhere, so it’s interesting finding out that it isn’t necessarily what I thought.

    • I think it’s a great practise to take photos of your horse at regular intervals to compare. Pick a spot, pick a pose, snap the picture from the same angle. When we see our horses every day we can miss some of the subtleties that occur. Our lives are busy and we sometimes brush off little displays of resistance as ‘just having an off day’.

      I certainly don’t think you’re looking at anything serious, but there’s a clear difference between then and now that I think is a bit more than just having some time off. Her conformation is incredibly strong where it’s important that she shouldn’t be getting that tightness through her topline, or at least not quickly gaining back its fullness with some regular work.

      It could have been something as simple as slipping while at play in pasture. I remember one particular ride on my big horse. We were hacking out in a field and he just tripped (at the trot) a bit in a little divet. For the rest of the ride (which wasn’t very long) he didn’t feel quite right to me. He wasn’t bobbing or anything, he wasn’t resistant, he just didn’t feel right and I thought he might have pulled/sprained something. When I got back to the barn and pulled off his saddle I immediately could see he had a vertebrae out. It slipped right back into place with just a little pressure and he took the biggest sighing breath. I gave him a couple of days off, cold hosed the area a number of times and stretched him and he was right as rain.

      It would be great if you could update us/keep us posted about your progress with her.

  4. Mercedes, I stand in awe of your abilities. I would love to be able to look at horses with as much skill as you do. Are there any books or other resources you particularly recommend on conformation? This stuff is just fascinating, and I want to learn more!

    • Oh, what a very nice thing to say, Mouche. Thank you very much. Of course the best conformation books are by Deb Bennett – Principles of Conformation Analysis. A lot of the rest is practise and years of experience and working with a lot of different horses, but certainly read everything you can, go to clinics, ask questions of professionals in all equine industries until you’re satisfied with the answers, try to get in with a mentor, etc…

  5. Not much! two fingers at the widest point, about two and a half inches. Narrower than her neck; I guess that rules out Rolkur! 🙂 And shallow. I once patted an Arabian where you could practically lose your hand in the gap between the jowls.

    • That’s what I suspected. It’s a fault and a significant one because it prevents the horse from dropping the head at the poll and coming onto the vertical. There simply isn’t enough room for the neck to fit between.

      Horses need a hand’s width (4″) distance between the bones there, so that the neck can fit.

      This is why you’re having such difficulty changing the neck musculature. You’re going to have to insist that she stretch more forward and more consistently. The little ligaments along the sides of the poll need to really be stretched. Once she’s as long as she can go with her neck, then you start to ask her to raise her base of neck (by asking for a bigger step behind). The best way I know how to start working on this is from the ground and hand triggering the scalenus muscle after encouraging the overall neck stretch.

      Every ride you have to start with the long and low frame and you have to revisit it the entire ride. Trying to ride the head and neck up is never going to work for her structure.

      You also need to ride her on a longer rein, even when asking her to engage more behind. Don’t let her shorten the neck or close her throat. She has to keep it long and constantly reaching and seeking contact. The instant she shortens, resists the hand, comes behind the aids, she’s doomed and can’t possibly comply without dropping her base of neck.

      Fortunately, she’s got such an awesome haunch so she can develop the extra strength she’s going to need to overcome this. But don’t ever ask her to come directly onto the vertical, she should always have her throat left open and to do that she’ll be more in front of the vertical than you’d see with a horse with the proper amount of room in that location.

  6. Interesting! Nobody has ever looked under her jowls, but I just went to a clinic over the weekend with another instructor who is in the same Philippe Karl training sessions as my own coach, and she put me back on long and low horizontal stretch walk and trot, seeking contact. We’d already been doing this for a couple of years, and then started trying to raise the neck (with instruction from the working student) over the summer. I did get moments when I felt her step under from behind and actually lift in front, but not consistently. And now we’re back to basics. Getting the stretch in the first place was a challenge as Paint Mare’s preferred posture is head way up to see the world. Also she started out so sensitive to the bit that she always preferred to be behind and above any contact, so another big part has been for her to take soft contact and keep it, not yo-yo back up above the bit. We can get stretch walk on trails, and walk/trot in the arena, but stretch trot on trails is harder, because she keeps wanting her head up higher to see what’s ahead. . . Was wondering what you meant by “working on this is from the ground and hand triggering the scalenus muscle after encouraging the overall neck stretch”? Asking for the poll after doing stretches?

    • From the ground you encourage the long and low stretch, usually a carrot or other treat will work, but you have to make sure the stretch is correct before rewarding it.

      I teach all horses I’m working with to ‘follow my hand’ on the ground. For leading I have neutral hand position for go straight, lower hand position for inward turn, higher hand position for outward turn, point at the front leg that’s bearing less weight indicates step back with that leg, then point to other front leg to take the next step back and so on.

      They all learn to follow the hand for stretches – I touch the hip, they bring their nose around and touch the hip, touch knee, they bring nose to knee, touch girth and the nose comes to there etc… If I hold my finger there, they hold the stretch.

      Then if I put my hand out they stretch long, move it a bit lower, then it’s long and low stretch, then with my free hand I manually trigger the scalenus muscle to lift the base of neck.

      For your horse I would also suggest that you teach ‘head down’ from the ground by lightly touching the poll. Add a voice command and then take away the hand command when she’s got it and just have her drop her head by voice command. Then take it to saddle and give the voice command to drop her head the instant she thinks about being resistant under saddle. You could also add another hand command for under saddle where the inside hand reaches forward to a specific spot along her crest, give the voice command, then take away the voice command when she’s got it and simply use the hand command under saddle when she gets resistant. Putting a hand on the neck is what cutter riders use to tell their horses to cut the cow and the moment they lift their hand off the neck the horse stops, so there’s no reason you can’t use that type of gesture or something similar to tell your horse to put her head down.

      I’ve done the first part of the latter with the horse I’m rehabbing now as she was very up with her head and expecting the world to end. She’d had her head wrongly lifted and held in place with her base of neck dropped. All that has to be undone, including remolding the musculature and it takes time. She’s taken to carrying her head lower in general now and when it does get up, many times I don’t even have to touch her…just make the gesture of putting my hand to her poll and give her a verbal command…and she’ll lower her head. It’s really neat to see the expression on her face and the change in her eye because the instant her head goes back down to a neutral position it’s like she suddenly realizes where she is and that all is right in the world – where’s my carrot?

  7. I’ve got her dropping her head with the “action/reaction” with the bit. She will stretch out and take light contact either on the ground or in saddle. We can sustain that at the walk, we can get it at the trot, but can’t always sustain it at the trot if there is something to look at … how are you manually triggering the scalenus? Massaging it?

    • Manually manipulate it and make it contract. Try running fingers from between her front legs up to her base of neck. It’s a feel thing, so you just experiment. You’ll know when you’ve hit it right as she’ll telescope her neck.

  8. Interesting again! She’s never liked being brushed on the chest, she’s always been girthy, and it turns out the whole area that you indentify is definitely one of her “no means no” areas. Lots of snapping the air, tossing her head and making faces. So we’ll need to work through that before I can do it in conjunction with ground work stretches. I’d heard before about massaging and stretching the tight, obvious muscle behind the front legs to try to solve girthiness (tried that occaisionally; seemed to work one time). So over the past weekend I did try some massaging that muscle and the chest and stretching the front legs by lifing them up, and after a while she tolerated my touch, so perhaps it was feeling better. But the next day she was just as touchy. I have a good chiropractor booked in two weeks, and I’ll certainly ask her about all of this.

    • And the plot thickens! 🙂 An area of irritation for her and if she won’t tolerating touching, then I imagine she’s got discomfort when trying to contract and relax those soft tissues.

      Remember that all the parts and pieces are connected and when one part doesn’t work as it should, another part must do extra duty. Then as that part gets over worked, another part must take up that slack and so on down the line.

      Looking forward to what the chiro says. And I want to know as well what she finds in the lower back.

  9. The chiropractor visited yesterday, and will follow up in a month. Apparently, the technical term for the Paint Mare’s hind end was “wonky.” The chiro adjusted her pelvis in multiple dimensions, and also knocked a few spinal processes back into place. Plus worked a lot on her shoulder, her pectorals, her neck, and a little bit on the atlas joint at the skull. Paint Mare showed a sore back under palpitation, first time ever (she wasn’t sore for the saddle fitter last month). She was very cranky earlier in the day, before chiro, under saddle. Today, though, the day after chiro, she wasn’t showing any pain and no resistance riding circles, for the first time since coming back from pasture in September. The chiro did take a look at this blog, and said you’d managed to see a good deal of what was going on with the horse, just from the pictures! 😀 She also agreed that the Paint Mare is over weight and under muscled, compared to when she worked on her in 2012. Paint Mare didn’t need nearly as much adjustment back then, possibly because all the muscles were holding her joints in place better. So hopefully now if we can trot a 20 metre circle without her trying to bite my foot, we can get back in shape

    • Yes, ‘wonky’ is a VERY technical term. LOL!

      I appreciate that the chiropractor took time to visit the blog and confirmed. If I’d have a full set of pictures, I’d have found everything. *beg* Seriously, though, it’s nice to have that confirmation. It’s hard not to sometimes doubt what I’m seeing and convince people that you can indeed see all that in a photo.

      Thank you for posting an update and I’m happy to hear that several things have been addressed so quickly and easily with instant improvement, and you’ve now got more information for moving forward with your mare. She’s really a nice using individual.

      I wish you much luck with her!

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