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The Anatomy of the Head with Gillian Higgins and Horses Inside Out

Updated: Apr 2, 2023

Every Wednesday through the Autumn, Winter and Spring months Gillian Higgins from Horses Inside Out brings us an educational webinar, each on a new and exciting topic.

This month the topic was The Anatomy of the Head: Related to Bridle Fit and Design.

gillian higgins horses inside out head anatomy painted head

Not only is this an exciting topic to explore for any horse owner or equine professional, the day of the webinar was even more anticipated by those of us that are followers of Horses Inside Out as it was also the launch day of Gillian’s latest book. The 10th in her collection. The title of the book being ‘Illustrated Head Anatomy, for health, performance, bridle fit and design’.

I had already placed my order for the book and couldn’t wait for the webinar to get a flavour of what I was going to be able to learn about when the physical book arrived. Gillian began the webinar by talking about the book and the model of the horse’s head that she has created to feature in the book.

Gillian created this amazing model using a real pony skull and some plasticine. Before having the model 3D scanned and printed in resin and then painting on the features.

It's absolutely amazing to see.

The webinar was split into several sections:

  • Bones of the head

  • Muscles of the head

  • Nerves of the head

  • Bridle fit and design relative to the head

When talking about the bones of the head Gillian demonstrated on one of her own horses how to palpate each of them and also talked about some of the anatomical connections.

gillian higgins horses inside out head anatomy palpating head

Although the webinar was based on the head, Gillian also talked about some of the muscle chains in the body of the horse as if you think about it - where does head anatomy finish and the rest of the body begin?

For example, did you know that the Temporal muscles are part of the Extensor Chain of muscles? Or that the Tongue is part of the Flexor Chain of muscles?

gillian higgins horses inside out painted horse extensor chain of muscles

You can learn more about muscle chains in one of my previous blogs.

A large part of this section was also based around the hyoid apparatus. 5 pairs of bones that attach to the tongue and suspend the pharynx and larynx between the mandible bones.

In the webinar you can learn more about the hyoid apparatus and also how to palpate it on your horse, how to test for tension here and how to perform a gentle myofascial/massage technique here.

Moving onto the muscles,

Did you know the muscles of mastication (chewing) are the largest muscles in the head?

Gillian also talks about the muscles of facial expression, ones we often don’t think about but are so important for our horses, allowing them to move their ears, lips and nostrils. And also demonstrates how you can give your horse a head massage to help relieve tension that may be held in the head. Especially after a long ride, and intense schooling session or a dentist visit for example. A nice head massage is just great for bonding with your horse too.

When Gillian gets onto the nerves of the head we also then get onto the subject of bridle fit and design as she shows us where the 2 main nerves of the head are that relate to bridle fit,

gillian higgins horses inside out head anatomy trigeminal nerve painted head

The facial nerve and trigeminal nerves, pain from which was cause symptoms such as head shaking, jaw tension, poll tension and bit chomping.

These nerves are superficial and can be located and palpated. It is important to know where these nerves are on your horse to ensure that your horse’s noseband is not putting pressure here.

We also need to be able to locate and palpate the nasoincisive notch and ensure our noseband is not sitting lower than this which could restrict your horse’s breathing and expansion of the nostrils.

Another consideration with nosebands is not just the position but the tightness.

Did you know there is a high correlation between tight nosebands and dental lesions inside the cheek?

Moving onto the headpiece of the bridle Gillian explains where this should sit and why the browband needs to be adequately sized so as not to pull the headpiece close to the back of the ears.

The headpiece, nose band and cheek pieces must also fit so that the buckles do not put pressure on the TMJ.

The TMJ or Temporomandibular joint is a highly innervated (sensitive) joint where the lower jaw joins the skull.

In this webinar you can learn how to locate and palpate the TMJ and also how to do some simple mobilisations with your horse to help release tension here.

gillian higgins horses inside out head anatomy palpating head

This has to be one of my favourite webinars from Gillian so far. They are all fantastic but I loved the practical aspects of this one. Anyone that watches this can go back to their own horse and instantly make their horse more comfortable by adjusting their bridle with anatomy in mind as well as release any tensions in their horse’s head using the therapy techniques Gillian shares.

This webinar is a must watch for anyone involved with horses - you can buy a lifetime copy of this webinar from the Horses Inside Out Academy now.

I hope you found this blog useful,



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