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 Post subject: 4. How is neck position essential for carrying ability?
PostPosted: Sun Feb 23, 2014 8:47 am 
White Lady
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Location: Eriksbråten, Skotterud
Posture and technique is very important when carrying heavy loads. It is equally important when doing difficult movements, especially when moving with impulsion. Impulsion is the quality of pushing energetically off from the ground. Moving with energy and power.

Let us try to pry this problem apart and look at the technicalities. First: Everybody knows that lifting something heavy may be bad for your back. Some people even know how to do it safely. Please have a look at this picture of Pelle. Is he lifting in a healthy way?

Perhaps not. His back is not stabilized, and he is not using his topline. Chances are he will hurt his back severely if the weight gets heavy enough.

This looks better. His back is stable, and he will be able to use his topline for carrying, that is his whole back chain of muscles.

When I try to do the same, my lifting capacity is limited because of my neck position. Whenever I am able to stretch out the blockages in my neck and thoracic spine, I can lift 20 kgs more than without. Just because the technique got better. And my back is safer as well.

So, what has this to do with horses?

The horse of course has to move in a correct outline and with good technique as well. So, I will discuss what is good technique for horses. We all know by now the signs of a good outline. Parallelity in the legs, weight on hind legs, poll up, nose fore, etc etc. But I more and more see riders who search for just some of these signs, and then we may fall into some serious traps.

What about poll up, nose fore only?

Well, if we have a look at this picture, taken in a not so ideal moment. The horse is unable to carry the rider well with the head in this position. This rider does not ride like this intentionally here, but we may use the photo to illustrate how the neck and back posture is important.

Nose in front of the vertical and poll highest point, does not necessarily mean right. (Again photo taken in a playing and training situation, and not the fault of the rider.)

Ok, I know I was picking pictures of riders who actually did not ride above, but what about this? Pelle is asking Hugo to piaffe, and everything looks askew. Nose fore, poll up, hindlegs under. But the hindquarters are not carrying. because the horse is not straight in his pelvis. The front leg is still the carrying one.

Another very common fault one may see when riders are trying to ride nose fore poll up without being able to include the back and hindquarters, is a ewe neck. I am afraid I have no picture of this myself, so I will have to link to one on the net. In this picture, you may see the problem, but not the rider, so I will have to go for that: ... eStock.jpg

An outline such as that in the neck, makes it impossible for the horse to stabilize its back, and thus to move the hip joints freely, as we have stated in the stabmo principle.

Weight on the hind legs.

We all agree that the whole point in dressage is to transfer more of the weight of both horse and rider to the hindquarters, right? Let us first then look at two horses that are 100% on their hind legs, for illustration's sake. We use the same ones as before:


Withers down, neck up, because of tight topline. Horse not able to push off powerfully from hind legs and forwards.

Withers up, head down and forwards, impulsion in hind legs. Horse able to explode forwards out of the position.

When riding in ordinary gaits, the rider needs these qualities as well. The only reason I use these "levade" pictures is that it becomes so obvious.

And of course, the neck must not be too low, too long, or curled. That will also make the horse move in a wrong way, and tip it over to the forehand. Let us look at some examples:

Longer form, often used on young horses their first times with a rider up. Compare the carrying capacity with the same horse below.

As we can see here, the head position is a little low, but the horse is carrying in a better way that above. If the impulsion improves, the horse will lift in the front.

Here we have added impulsion, and the horse lifts in front. But the impulsion is too much for the horse's present state of training, since we can see that he opens his mouth. This is due to a stiffness in the neck. We will come back to this.

On the other hand, the horse may be too low or too curled up in its neck, like this:
Here, the horse has lost its diagonality over the back, and curls its neck whenever the rider takes contact with the reins. It is easy to see that the horse cannot carry in this outline, and the hind legs become straight.

Here, the neck is better, but the back is not stabilizing, and the hind legs cannot carry.

Here, the neck is lower, and the back is stabilizing, but the front is too low for the hindquarters to be able to carry.

Here, the impulsion from the hind legs are quite good, but the withers are not quite where they should be, and the horse lacks a little lift in the front.

Here the neck, withers and hindquarters are better, but a little more impulsion will lift the front even more.

Here you may study how impulsion flows from the hind legs, over the back and up. At this moment in time, the horse is on his way down, and the lift through the back, withers and neck is decreasing. For us to be able to sit on that, the horse must lift its neck and withers more,

Here, the horse is visibly lifting the rider with back, neck and withers, using the impulsion from behind. It is important to understand how the neck position is vital to the horse's carrying ablility. I am afraid I have no ideal illustrations, so you will have to do with studying these.

We must get the importance of the outline straight first, before we move on to discussing how we may eliminate problems.

Thanks for your patience.

Paradox is a pointer telling you to look beyond it. If paradoxes bother you, that betrays your deep desire for absolutes. The relativist treats a paradox merely as interesting, perhaps amusing or even, dreadful thought, educational.

Frank Herbert.

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