After breaking down the structure of the equine neck in Part 1, it’s now time to look at our original sample group of six horses to see how their necks measure up.
Horse #1 – 10yr old QH Stallion
This fellow has a medium length of neck. It could be a bit longer and it wouldn’t hurt him, and it could be a bit shorter and it also wouldn’t hurt him; and ‘that’ references not hurting him athletically. His neck is also set with a medium depth.
In terms of height of neck set, we can see that his lower cervical curve is quite high in relationship to his scapulae, and therefore he has a high neck set. Even though he’s standing in a chill manner, we can still see evidence of correct development of the tubular complexus muscle; that is be partly due to him being a stallion and a stallion’s natural tendency to telescope the neck as a means to ‘get the ladies’, but it’s also due to the underlying bones. This is a beautiful equine neck in terms of structure, usability and athletic performance.
Horse #2 – QH Gelding
Our second QH has a shorter neck than our first, most significantly shorter in the upper cervical curve (a fraction shorter and we’d have to call him hammer-headed, and I wouldn’t argue with anyone who wanted to call him that now) and through the middle segment. You can see that that shorter upper curve causes the horse to have less room through the throat latch area. Fortunately, this boy also has a high neck set, so the ability to use the neck correctly is there. In training, there should be focus on stretching the neck correctly so that those little muscles and ligaments behind the poll and ears are made as long and supple as possible. As well, we’d not expect or ask this horse to come as tightly onto the vertical.
Horse #3 – 4yr old QH
It’s more difficult to examine this horse’s neck due to the angle of the photo. His neck is proportionately medium in length, with a medium depth of set. In those regards he’s much like our QH stallion. He is quite different, though, in height of neck set. This is a low set neck at midpoint of the scapula.
On the plus side, the person training this horse has done an excellent job of preventing this horse from excessively dropping his base of neck and creating the typical inverted neck muscling so often seen, but we can see how this low set neck puts additional weight down and forward onto the front end. While both the QH stallion and this one are clearly downhill built, the stallion – with his superior structured neck – can easily lift his base of neck and the rest of his front end up, while this horse is stuck in perpetual ‘down the hill’ motion. Further evidence of being stuck on his forehand can be seen in the muddy shoulder bed and the lumpy, excessive muscling covering the shoulder.
Horse #4 – Arabian Stallion
This is a neck on the longer end of the scale. We wouldn’t want it to have any more length. Like most Arabians, the actual bone structure underneath is quite good. This is your classic arched neck and it’s beautiful and highly functional.
Horse #5 – TB Gelding
This neck, imo, is a fooler. There’s a ‘double bulge’ in the lower cervical curve that shouldn’t be there. This is typical of a horse that is out of alignment.
If we take the lower bulge and compare it to the scapula this horse’s neck set is right at the mid-point, making it a low set neck exactly like our grey QH, and it just simply is not, while the upper bulge is located too far forward to be correct, making the set fall in the medium to medium-high category, which it is not.
Therefore, I’ve split the different between the two bulging points to establish a medium to medium-low set, which is a more accurate representation of this horse’s neck. It is set on better than the grey QH’s, but it’s still set on at the lower end of the scale.
In terms of length, this neck is bang on and the horse has a very good upper curve and middle section. With correct riding and training (after the neck is fixed), the musculature and posture of this neck could be improved substantially.
Horse #6 – Paint Mare
Here we have a classic bull neck with its short upper curve resulting in a hammer-head, its short middle segment, and its long, wide lower cervical curve creating an unattractive bulging of that part of the neck. Its overall length is short.
We are almost done examining out sample set of horses, just the hind legs to go!
Four pictures of Secretariat, not much to say about length itself as his is fine and fairly medium, but to illustrate first of all the importance of the neck telescoping gesture and it’s affect on posture overall, especially raising the base of the neck to level the spine. Compare the first photo where his neck is in a more natural position for him, and the next two where he has telescoped his neck and brought his spine to a more level position. The last is a juvenile picture at racing fitness, just for fun.
How is length of neck determined? When I look at the TB, I see a very long neck. He looks like he’d have difficulty coming together, heavy on the forehand and would want to break mid neck, which might explain the odd bulges. Can the length of neck be applied to length of body / length of back with a %? I understand this would be difficult as the neck can lengthen and shorten at will but as most of the horses in this post are somewhat ‘relaxed’ for the pics in a natural position, can we measure them against their bodies?
Poll to highest point of wither compared to highest point of wither to dock…roughly.
You have to consider the horse’s proportions. A long bodied horse needs a longer neck to balance rider during activity than a shorter bodied horse.
And no, the bulges in the lower cervical curve are not from breaking at mid neck. The horse is out of alignment. There would be a different muscle pattern and neck posture if the horse regularly broke at mid neck. That horse’s musculature isn’t inverted, it’s also not top condition for best posture…it’s neutral.
This has been my theory about my long-bodied, long-necked gelding. I think his ability to carry me and remain balanced would be affected if he didn’t have the length of neck he has. Against all odds he’s learning to lift his neck and shoulders quite well, I could canter him all day. We certainly need to try to ride our horses to the best of our ability to keep them physically healthy. And even those with sub-par conformation can be useful and stay sound if ridden correctly.
I’m having a hard time seeing the curves of the neck. Could you draw over the pictures showing where the vertebrae are?
It can be hard to see the vertebrae. Referring back to the skeleton of the horse can help. I’ll consider doing an addendum article with the vertbrae marked – that’s pushing the limits of my ability to use the Paint program. 🙂
Please do! I’m not too clear on high/low/long/short cervical curves. I need pictures, lol.