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The Anatomy of Your Horse's Neck

Updated: Jun 23, 2022

This evening I was lucky to get a space on the SOLD OUT webinar with Gillian Higgins from Horses Inside Out discussing The Horse’s Neck. (The recorded version is now available in the Horses Inside Out Academy HERE)

The webinar was split into 4 sections:

· Anatomy of the neck

· Biomechanics of the neck

· How the head and neck position affects the rest of the body

· Q & A session (where Gillian will answer questions asked my live webinar attendees - a benefit of having tickets to the live webinar)

horse neck bones, equine cervical vertebrae, nuchal ligament

Gillian began by discussing how it was difficult to simply talk about the horse’s neck in isolation, and demonstrated with some horse dissection images and some images of her own how the neck is a continuous anatomy of the head and also the forelimbs.

She went onto discuss the cervical vertebrae of the neck and fibro-cartilaginous discs which are thicker in the neck (which has a larger range of movement) compared to the lower parts of the spine which have less range of movement.

There are 7 cervical vertebrae in the horse’s neck and from each there are cervical nerves serving the peripheral musculoskeletal system.

The lower cervical nerves join the brachial plexus which also contains the nerves of the forelimbs, which explain why issues in the neck also effect the motion of the forelimbs.

gillian higgins horses inside out painted horse brain spinal cord

Gillian then shares a fabulous video demonstrating how to locate the cervical vertebrae in your horse’s neck and demonstrates malformation of the C6/C7 vertebrae, opening up the question of how this could affect your horse. Something that is currently being studied by equine anatomists.

The second section of the webinar is Biomechanics of the neck.

Did you know the skull is made from 34 flat and irregular bones?

Gillian talks about the TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint). This area is highly innervated (has lots of nerve endings) and is also very close to the teeth and the inner ear which can affect balance.

horse teeth diagram, upper vs lower jaw

This opens up the question:

Does poor dental health affect the TMJ – does the alignment of the TMJ affect the dental alignment?

And therefore how does any misalignment of the teeth and TMJ affect the rest of the body?

horse head anatomy, tongue movement, equine tongue

During the webinar Gillian also discusses the tongue and the Hyoid apparatus, which could quite be a webinar in itself! But if you are looking to learn more about what the Hyoid apparatus is – I would recommend checking out this webinar!

This time Gillian added a short 5 minute break in the middle of the webinar which I thought was a great idea as it gives a chance to visit the rest room or make a drink.

All refreshed and ready to come back for part 2!

Gillian next discussed mobilisation of the poll and the movement available between each of the vertebrae in the neck. This is because each of the 7 vertebrae do not all have the same range of motion in flexion/extension, lateral flexion and rotation. Having an understanding of what can happen in each part of the neck is so important.

I also love the inclusions of participant polls during the webinar, they really get you thinking and wanting to find out more and engage in what Gillian is describing.

And I loved the fabulous use of a video with some chickens demonstrating the function of the Atlanto-Axial joint, such a great visual for understanding how this part of the body is so important for balance and keeping the horse’s head straight in relation to the rest of the body – this is worth a watch if nothing else!

gillian higgins horses inside out chicken movement haid straight mercedes advertisement

In the final section Gillian discusses ‘How the positioning of the head and neck affects the rest of the body’

This is particularly important for those of you that are not deeply into learning about the ins and outs of anatomy – but want to learn more about why certain training techniques work and why some do not.

Mostly it is down to physics and the actual biomechanics of the horse’s body.

Gillian talks a lot about my favourite subject – lift from the base of the neck and the effect of the Longis Colli muscle.

Base of the neck, anatomy longus coli, thoracic inlet

Whether you know about the name of the muscles or not, lift from the base of the neck, underneath in front of the chest is what we need to be looking for in our horses when striving for true self carriage and healthy posture.

gillian higgins horses inside out painted horse skeleton rider suit trotting alternating raised poles

I love the explanation Gillian gives in this webinar of isometric muscle contraction in the neck muscles and why this develops the top line muscles of the neck – this is a must watch for those of you looking to build a good strong neck and a horse that can maintain a good, strong and healthy ‘outline’

If you take nothing else from this webinar I wish you learn from this.

I highly recommend this webinar to any horse owner / rider/ trainer as the anatomy of the neck is just as important if not more so than any other part of your horse.

Visit the Horses Inside Out Academy to get your ticket to the lifetime access of this webinar. Jess

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