Effects of Lowering the Head and Neck
Stretch circles and free walk (letting the horse reach forwards and downwards) are common movements during dressage tests; allowing and encouraging your horse to stretch down when being ridden under saddle has many positive effects.
Benefit #1: Flexion of the neck and, therefore, the thoracic spine results in a separation between each of the spinous processes of the thoracic vertebrae. It is therefore a pain relieving position in horses ‘kissing spine’ and represents a real physiotherapeutic treatment. This can also be achieved by stretching in hand using a treat (carrot) to bring the horses neck downward toward their front legs.
Benefit #2: Strong traction by the nuchal ligament, which inserts onto the spinous processes of the withers, results in flexion of the thoracic spine along its entire length. The back consequently arches, directly under the saddle which therefore supports the rider. This can be used to advantage in a couple of situations.
- In the schooling of young horses where muscles are not yet adapted to the weight of a rider.
- In horses suffering from impinging dorsal spinous processes.
Benefit #3: Arching of the thoracic spine induces elongation of the erector spinae muscle and the juxtavertebral (multifidus) muscles, which work during lengthening. Elongation of these extensor muscles of the vertebral column increases the efficiency of their contraction during sport exercises; therefore, thoracic flexion along with efficient abdominal contraction is a valuable tool in the preparation of athletic fitness.
- Muscular lengthening helps to counter the reflex muscle spasms that occur with impinging spinous processes or arthritis of the thoracic and lumbar intervertebral joints.
If you feel that your horse does not willingly stretch forward or downward, schedule an appointment with MEL Equine today; to aid in the release of muscle restrictions that may be present and improve your horses well being.