As requested I’ve attempted to give a general outline of the cervical vertebrae of our sample set of horses. The points neither mark individual bones, nor the center of the bones, though; I’ve tried on that latter point to give the best indication of location within the neck. Hope it helps.
Reviewing: Here is a picture of the horse’s skeleton with this representing a high set, naturally arching neck that you might see on an Iberian. Such a neck requires a medium to long upper curve, a medium middle segment and a short, shallow lower curve that is placed high in direct relationship to the scapulae.
Horse #1 – 10yr old QH Stallion
I mentioned in the previous article that this horse had a quite good neck. The main difference between it and the skeleton horse is that the lower cervical curve is deeper and longer in this horse. The depth is partially due to our stallion dropping his base of neck in this photo, while our skeleton horse is lifting it, but I’m going to now call this horse a touch bull necked.
Horse #2 – QH Gelding
The big thing to note with this horse is that much shorter upper cervical curve. Compare it to any of our sample horses except the Paint.
Horse #3 – 4yr old QH
This is a unique view because we have the horse with his head lowered, but we also have a good amount of lifting of the base of neck making that lower cervical curve flatter. In this case you need to imagine what happens to that lower curve when the horse lifts his head and isn’t lifting the base of neck. As well, note how much longer that lower curve is than to the Arabian stallion.
Horse #4 – Arabian Stallion
This is a GREAT equine neck.
Horse #5 – TB Gelding
This horse has a slightly better (higher) neck set than the grey QH. Their structures are very similar, but our TB has a slightly shorter and shallower lower curve. Even though our TB’s lower cervical curve appears a bit deeper, while holding his head at about the same height at the grey QH, you must take into account that the TB is not lifting his base of neck at all. If he was putting in the same effort, then his lower curve would be a touch flatter than that of the grey.
Horse #6 – Paint Mare
This horse is hammer headed, and if you compare to the roan QH, you can see that she has an even shorter upper curve. I was reluctant to call the roan hammer headed, but wouldn’t argue that point since he’s right on the borderline, but it’s clear this one is. We also see the long, wide lower curve of a bull neck.
You’re welcome. Does it help you *see* better?
Yes, very much! I might practice on a few pictures and ask you to grade my eye, lol!
Just figured out how you copied those squares in Paint so they are identical in size! I use Paint regularly at work and never used the copy feature. MUCH easier! I tried to draw the vertebrae freehand, that wasn’t going to happen.
I didn’t copy anything. I just used the ‘eraser’ icon. But however you got it to work, that’s awesome!
Could you explain what a hammer head is? Thanks so much.
Della, it might be best if you read this article from earlier this month, which discusses the bone structure of the equine skull and how the cervical vertebrae attach. That’ll answer your question more completely.
Am I even remotely close?
The dot clearly in front of the rein is ‘almost’ on the lower cervical curve – it’s a touch too far forward. After that point the vertebrae start to move up and between the scapulae.
Your upper curve is too deep and too short. Hers is a good length and shallow.
Get in there and palpate her neck.
Ugh. I’m hopeless. I tried feeling his neck but couldn’t really tell what I was feeling.. (Just because the saddle pad is pink and glittery doesn’t mean he’s a girl! Real men wear pink!)
Would this be a better picture to use? https://fbcdn-sphotos-c-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/t1/q77/s720x720/1656315_10101536287868748_1654343195_n.jpg Or does the fact that he’s holding his head with his neck a bit arched make it harder?
And how do you distinguish between good/bad/long/short/deep/shallow curves based on conformation versus based on positioning?
Maybe I’ll bring some masking tape to the barn and try to mark where I think I feel things and then take pictures of him all taped up for you to review, lol.
You can get shot for saying real men wear pink is certain parts of this world. LOL!
This second picture shows that he can lift his base of neck (without kiling himself tyring) and use his neck well. You can see a good piece of the tubular complexus muscle. That alone tells you he has good neck structure, so he must possess the combination of lengths and depths discussed in the earlier neck article. That will help guide you. For instance, you know that upper curve isn’t short, so when you draw it, it shouldn’t be short.
Basically it’s called practise. Start by looking at necks that are of the naturally arched type set on high. That’ll be your Iberians and Morgans. Arabians will also possess this, but will tend to have more general length of neck. Belgians and Percherons and many other draft breeds will also have this structure but be of general shorter length.
Get a real good sense for that type of neck then move on to the straight neck structure.
You can also break it down and just start by first being able to identify the lower curve. Look at horses in front of you and determine where you think it is, and then palpate for it. Again, what you’re feeling for is in the other neck article. The trick to finding it in photos is that it’s a ‘high spot’ and therefore reflects lighting.
Our main focus here is on the ‘riding’ horse. So in a riding horse we want that neck at least medium set or higher. Lower than medium requires so much more of the horse and the rider, that most people should avoid that low set neck. Our riding horse should also possess a straight or arched neck structure. Anything that deviates or contains such things as hammer-headedness or bull-necks should be avoided by the average person because it just makes life that much more difficult for horse and rider.
If you send that first picture unmarked via e-mail, I will mark it for you.
I can see the upper and middle pretty well, but have trouble seeing where the lower comes into the shoulder area. Is there a trick to seeing that?
I can see that I need to literally get my hands on more horses to get better at this!
Look at the horse skeleton again and see that T1 is actually in front of the scapulae. Technially it’s C5/C6 joint C6, C7, & T1 that are forming the curve and then passing between the scapulae is T2. C1 and C2 are your upper curve, C3-5 are your middle segment.
But yes, palpating a few times helps a lot.
Is this horse’s neck too short – a hammerhead? How does he look?
OK – last try here. Again, apologies for my tech ineptness.
Not hammer headed and while the neck is on the shorter end of the equine scale, it appears shorter than it really is because of its compression in the photo and poor muscling.
When you say poor muscling, could you explain a bit what you mean? Also, am I seeing an OK shoulder but a long back here? Thanks so much for your comments on conformation – am learning a lot.
The muscling of the neck is incorrect. As in the horse does not use itself correctly and therefore different muscle patterns exist than what are ideal. Part of the problem may be that he’s a bit bull-necked.
There’s no such thing as an ‘okay’ shoulder. It’s whether or not the shoulder is constructed in a manner suitable for a specific discipline, and more importantly for the horse to stay sound.
Rider and tack hide the highest point of wither so it’s not possible to say with certainty about shoulder slope or back length. Guessing at the location, the horse appears to fall on the borderline of being long backed, while the shoulder appears to be sloped at a utilitarian 50 degrees.