Do you ever wake up after a seemingly great night of sleep only to have a discomforting ache in your neck for the next 12 hours …. Well that’s how I woke up today. Oh the joys, of muscles and the human body. Seeing how my neck is twisted 6 ways to Sunday from my apparently eventful dream, we are going to talk about the equine neck, poll and head today!
DID YOU KNOW?
The equine head, poll and neck make up 10% of the total body mass of our equine athletes? Containing over 100 muscles to support 7 cervical (aka neck) vertebrae.
You read that right, OVER 100 muscles … isn’t that crazy! The human neck only contains 26 muscles!! It’s no wonder our horses have a way greater range of motion than we do, and that they might be more susceptible to problems in their neck, simply because they can make so many more movements than we can #MoMovementsMoProblems
The major function of these muscles are to act as stabilizers during locomotion. While some of the larger muscles can influence the forelimb, there are a ton of smaller muscles that support the cervical vertebrae. It is these smaller muscles that support the vertebrae to allow for the ‘S’ curvature of the neck, while still allowing for flexibility.
You can see the ‘S’ curvature of the neck better, when we remove all of those supporting muscles.
FUN FACT: The equine neck stretches longer than that of most other herbivores!
What do the head, neck and poll do?
The head and neck are used to maintain balance, stability and spatial awareness by employing input from visual, vestibular and proprioceptive systems. The vestibular system includes the parts of the inner ear and brain that help control balance and eye movements. And proprioception refers to the awareness of the position of the body in space. Thus, the ability for your equine athlete to contract these smaller muscles is KEY in preventing injury.
What happens if there is tension in the head, neck and poll?
Many muscular issues stemming from the neck can present as short-term stiffness, shortness, and limited lateral bend/flexion. It can also occasionally present as forelimb lameness, shortened stride, unusual head carriage, and decrease in performance.
Due to the anatomical makeup of the equine athlete any imbalances through the head, neck and poll can have a prominent impact on the function of the entire body. The head and neck are connected to the rest of the body directly through long muscles, like the brachiocephalicus for instance that starts at the base of the skull and ends on the humerus. But the head/neck are also connected to the entire body through the circulation system, the nervous system, connective tissues, muscles, ligaments and so much more! So, it is extremely important to make sure the muscles are functioning properly in this area, in order to help the rest of the body.
How to assure your horse maintains proper function of the head, neck and poll
The best way to assure this happens is by assuring your horses neck maintains its’ flexibility and strength within those short stabilizer muscles. You can do this with…
1. Carrot Stretches – encouraging the athlete to elongate their neck
2. Tail Pulls – are great to strengthen the short stabilizer muscles in the entire neck
3. Dynamic Suppling Exercises under saddle – rounding of the cervical vertebrae while activating the core, applying some form of poll drill encouraging your equine athlete to stabilize while stepping over or around objects is great too
As your athlete ages it is even more important to make sure they can perform their tasks with flexibility and strength within their neck, because just like us, things get worse with age. On top of that, muscles if not activated or released appropriately can also add to their deterioration, which in turn affects how they operate today, and tomorrow…. As my grampa always says “Trust me! Things don’t operate like they use to anymore.”
Take Home Message
Remember that the head, neck and poll play a larger part in your equine athlete’s performance than you might have thought. The head, neck and poll play a massive role in:
1. Stabilization and balance
2. Spatial Awareness
So, we encourage you at your next #TeamVE session, to ask us how we can help YOU, help your athlete have connected neck movements. Here at #TeamVE we love sharing educational facts with you, so tune in to our future blogs for more! Until next time!