This is where most people think that a little "extra" cannot hurt. A little further stretch. Maybe stretch the poll a little extra since the angle of the head and neck is so open. And this is where it goes wrong.
The horse is subject to the same physical laws as the rest of us here on earth. Gravity being one. Gravity wants the horse flat on the ground. Horse works to stay upright. As the horse lets go and stretches the neck using gravity, everything wants to fall straight down. The head, too.
So in order for the head to be able to move back, something has to help counteract gravity and hold it back. I have no doubt a lot of riders help their horses with this, graciously carrying their heads for them. But those who don't, make the horse hold the head back himself.
Behind the Vertical
The topline is stretched out (1).
The poll is stretched out (2).
The Scalenius Ventralis holds the neck back to stabilize it, pulling the base of the neck down (3).
And the Scalenius Medius pulls the head back, equally pulling the neck down. (4).
The Sternohyoideus and Sternothyroideus also help shortening the underline to hold the head back (5).
And since they and the Scalenius pull on the jaw, the Masseter needs to shut the mouth again (6).
The hyoid apparatus is being pulled on by the Sternohyoideus, and it in turn pulls on the tounge, the tounge cannot drop relaxed down the mouth and carry the bit properly.
This spells TENSION. And it gets worse.
Deep & Rollkur
The topline stretches (1).
The whole poll-to-3rd vertebra area is overflexed and under strain (2).
The Scalenius Ventris and Medius work hard (3 - 4).
So does the Sternohyoideus and Sternothyroideus (5).
And the tongue and hyoid apparatus is pulled back and the whole jowl area is tense(6).
The vertebral column has been trapped inside the nuchal ligament. The extreme curl has wrapped the ligament around the neck and is compressing it as the muscles of the bottom line pull, and the ligament is stretched.
A Common Nomenclature
for Head & Neck Posture
At Least Let's Decide on Where We Stand...
There is a need for a common nomenclature for neck postures, since we are all discussing this, and it sometimes turns out we mean very different things. Riding is not a freeze-frame endeavour, so it cannot be applied straight on, but it can guide us towards greater understanding of each others arguments, or even a realization that we don't really agree although what we say sounds alike.
For example, some riders say they ride deep. They put the horse's head below the height of a normal stance. Some interpret that as the horse being curled in towards the chest and others still find it to be a mere lengthening of the neck forward and down. After all, deep is down, right? The word deep has also been associated with a curling poise, and indeed, some riders find it hard to believe there's anything such as riding the horse with the neck stretched out. At least not without bucking or slopping around, losing the back.
I will be using some abbreviations in this section, for the reasons that I don't want to type so much, and because we all use them in forum discussions anyway. If you don't - here's a decoder:
BTV = face Behind The Vertical
IFV = face In Front of the Vertical
FDO = neck stretched Forward, Down, Out
Broken at 3rd = neck vertebrae misaligned between axis and 3rd
The Illusive Vertical
It is NOT the jawline that is
supposed to be vertical.
It is NOT the midline that is
supposed to be vertical.
Some people think that "the Vertical" is the midline of the horse's head, or even the jaw line, and some think the poll is situated 8 inches behind the horse's ears, since that's the point that is the highest, and the poll is supposed to be the highest point, right?
"The Vertical" is the vertical line drawn VERTICALLY from the horse's forehead towards the ground, and the nose should be on or in front of it. The profile of the nose is supposed to be forward of the forehead, like a steep ski-slope, not an overhang!
The nose is in front of the
vertical line going from the forehead.
You can also use the eye and the nostril for reference. Whenever the nostril is in front of the vertical line from the eye, the horse's head is in front of the vertical. Or with a well fitting bridle, the side piece should be vertical. This is the position the head will take by itself on a sleeping horse, or one using a minimum of neck muscles. And a minimum use of neck muscles is not as one would think, a bad thing. These are the muscles governing the head, that would pull the head back and in, shortening the neck. We want them idle, in this case. This is why the expression "flexing the poll" is so bad. It is actually "relaxing the poll" to let the nose drop to the near vertical.
A common sight in competition, BTV and poll low.
The fact that 99% of all dressage horses you'll see in the competition arena don't have the nose on, or in front of, the vertical is a different matter. The scores given do not directly apply to head posture only, if at all. In the case of "10s", head posture does not count one bit, since if it did, the score would not be a 10. But it sure does create a mental picture of roundness, but the picture is not correct.
More on mental pictures in "Training the Eye".
The Equally Illusive Poll
The actual location of the bony
protrusion called 'the poll'.
Then there's the poll, and its level of elevation. It should, according to the rules, be the highest point, except for on the stretchy circle or walk on a long rein. But where is the poll located on the horse? The poll is not the point that is usually the highest on any given competition horse. No, the poll is the occipital protruberance at the back of the skull. This point should remain the highest skeletal point of the horse in collected movements and any posture when the horse is on the bit. This can be very hard to understand if you haven't seen it done. Some instinctvely think the horse is tense in this posture, or "not round enough". This usually comes from being unable to "keep" the horse in such a frame oneself, and instead needing to "trap" it in behind the vertical to keep the horse from throwing his head up. It can also be hard to understand if you don't know the horse's skeletal structure, and think that the neck joins the head behind the jaw. So get to know it!
The head attaches near the top of the skull, not where
the neck meets the jaw.
I think a lot of this confusion comes from the fact that riders and trainers don't know the absolute basics of horse anatomy, and the function of the head and neck, and their joints. The neck meets the skull at the top of the skull, near the edge where the forehead starts. The skull hangs from there. It does not attach to the head where the neck meets the jaw. There's no bony connection there, and the muscles that are there should be idle in the riding horse working on the bit.
The horse will stay BTV if you train BTV.
A lot of riders and trainers also say that "poll the highest point" is the final grand prix outline, but that's just uneducated bolony! They think that the lowered neck and angled back head (with the same angle at the poll as when ridden "up") is a lower level outline, and as you come up to grand prix you just raise the neck, and voila, the head is on the vertical.
This scenario, I would say, NEVER happens. What happens is, that the horse learns to hold the head back by the underline neck muscles, and he will keep doing that as you raise the neck. These horses usually travel with artificially raised necks (and thus lowered backs), and the head still behind the vertical when ridden "up", because they have learned this behaviour, and been rewarded for it. With these horses it is impossible to "place the neck anywhere" just like the rollkur proponents say they want, because you can't pull the nose out. And the horse learns to hold the head back. The only option left to get the nose out is to coax the horse into an extended gait, and you can do that training at home, but between passage and walk in the showring, you just have an overbent horse with a lowered back.
The poll is the highest point of
the horse and the nose is in
front of the vertical, even if
the neck is not very raised.
According to the rules, the poll is supposed to be the highest point of the horse, not the entire universe! It doesn't have to be particularly high to be the highest point of the horse.
The poll is lower than the
withers in a stretch.
When the head becomes lower than the withers, it's OK for the poll not to be the highest point anymore -because it's a stretch! (Mind you, the face should still be on or in front of the vertical.) You should stretch down often, for relaxation, and elongation of the neck, not for "work". This will also encourage the horse to stretch during collection, and arch the neck beautifully.
The location of the poll (green).
Another reason this muddle of confusion exists, is that even really experienced horse people like Frank Evans and others, refer to the atlas (purple) or axis (blue) as the poll, but this is physiologically wrong. Those parts are the neck vertebrae, and the poll (red) belongs to the head, the back of the cranium, to be precise. The importance of it remaining high is for the neck NOT to bend off at the atlas or axis. And this is where cause and effect get mixed up. Since the atlas or axis is the highest point, that must be the poll. Duh!
Those who think that the poll as the highest point is only possible with a horse collected for Grand Prix, are lost in the poll-flexion maze.
They think it is so, because they ride the horse from day 1 with the top of the neck overbent (bending off at 2-3 vertebrae) and the horse learns to habitually shorten the underneck and hold the head in. With that kind of reinforced habit, the only chance of getting the poll up to be the highest, would be to maunally raise the neck beyond where the horse can hold the head back behind the vertical. No wonder they think "up for competition" is bad for the back!
On The Bit
The horse is correctly on the bit without collection or elevation of the neck.
"On the bit" means the horse is relaxed in his poll and stretching his neck towards the bit. This is called for in the FEI tests, and is also described there:
In all his work, even at the halt, the horse must be "on the bit". A horse is said to be "on the bit" when the neck is more or less raised and arched according to the stage of training and the extension or collection of the pace, and he accepts the bridle with a light and soft contact and submissiveness throughout. The head should remain in a steady position, as a rule slightly in front of the vertical, with a supple poll as the highest point of the neck, and no resistance should be offered to the rider.
This horse is also correctly on the bit without
collection or elevation of the neck.
A lot of riders and trainers want to call "On the Bit" "On the Aids" instead, because the "On the Bit" focuses too much on just a head set. While it may be true that you have to have a horse on all the aids in order for it to be working correctly on the bit, that is not what is stated by the FEI. As one clearly can see in the rules of the FEI, on the bit refers to only the head and the neck. In Article 401 there are 6 other paragraphs that deal with everything else, and this is the 6th out of 7, so they don't really forget the rest of the horse and ride only the head. But the fact remains, that 'on the bit' means only a certain head and neck attitude in the FEI rules. How to get it is another matter.
This horse is also correctly on the bit without
collection or elevation of the neck.
This attitude has the outward signs of "the head remaining in a steady position...slightly in front of the vertical". In this case the nose should be forward of a line from the horse's forehead. The flat face of a horse is simple to see. The nose should come first. The pink line in the drawing above follows the vertical drop from the horse's forehead, and in this illustration, the nose is in front of it. It is also only in this position that most normally conformed horses are able to keep their polls the highest point. This is because of how the head and neck are set together on a horse.
The blue dot = the crest of
the axis & the red = the poll.
If the joint between the atlas and the skull could flex more than it should, the mandible would still press against the wing of the atlas and/or the axis, and the poll would lower and the atlas/axis rise to accomodate the angle of the head. This would be painful as well. The poll is really a bony protrusion at the back of the head, and as long as the nose is in front of the vertical, it can be the highest skeletal point of the horse. As the nose comes in, the protrusion rotates with the head forward and down, and the atlas becomes the highest point. But more commonly, the axis is the highest point. The joint between the atlas and the axis is not mobile in the up/down direction, so all of this movement must come at the horrible joint between 2nd (axis) and 3rd. This is usually where the horse "breaks" when the poll is low and the nose is behind the vertical.
The locations of the bones of head and neck.
The poll is connected to the withers via the nuchal ligament and the lammelae. When the poll is no longer the highest point of the neck, or rather, when the axis/atlas is above the straight line from poll to withers, this ligament is wrapped around the sticking up vertebrae. The spine is suspended from the ligament by the lamellae whose main object is to keep the vertebrae aligned to avoid dislocation or excessive crunching of the length of the neck. These are rendered useless when the S-shape is exaggerated, and the vertebrae are squeezed together at the far end of their range of motion.
Behind the Vertical - Broken at 3rd
The by far most common outline seen in dressage training and competition.
This is the most common attitude that one sees on any horse, in any dressage arena, anywhere. Why?
I think there are several reasons for it. The first being that the riders have too strong and insensitive contact. I hear a lot about rein length when I'm out and about. Like it was a fixed length like the stirrup leathers, that one could change from time to time, but only by stopping and ardously changing the location where they connect to the hand. This is an AWFUL attitude towards the mouth and poise of the horse. You could just as well be riding with sidereins. This is not how it works!
BTV, broken at 3rd and hindlegs strung out.
If you work all the nuances between collection and relaxation, letting the horse lower and stretch some after a few steps or rounds of collection, the horse needs longer reins as he stretches and shorter ones as he collects! Just letting your elbows straighten is not an option, since that gives stiff longer reins. So you change your rein grip. If that is out of your dexterity and ability you should not be working on collection at all!
Many riders want their horses to come up in front in collection, so they just shorten the rein. If the horse cannot (since collection comes from stepping under behind) the horse will do what he can - either raise the whole neck independently of the quarters (which hollows the back) or just pull his chin in to accomodate the storter rein.
BTV, broken at 3rd and hindlegs strung out and
very much on the forehand.
This in the long run leads to a trapping of the horse inside the confinement of too short reins.
It is much easier to "keep the head steady" if you have too short reins, and the horse behind the vertical, because how is he supposed to get out of it? Whatever he tries involves trying to get some rein, and the rider can prevent that. He could raise the whole neck with his chin clamped to his underneck, but with a rider on top, that hurts! The chest sinks and hollows! So he learns to handle it the way it is.
Bending the neck to the sides, possibly to try to get
lateral positioning between atlas and axis.
This form of riding makes the horse pull on the reins and the rider pulls back. Or the horse holds his head back himself and works backwardly. It's wrong either way.
Horses which learn to bend off between the axis and the 3rd neck vertebrae are usually hopelessly stiff in the poll. I don't know if the stiff poll is the reason they give further back or if this breaking necessitates a stiff poll, but I would guess the latter. These horses position, not between the atlas and the axis as desired, but further down the neck, because the stiff muscles at the poll resist positioning the head sideways. I have my own theory that this is why those who ride deep bend so desperately to the sides, as well as try to flex the poll by curling extremely - they wouldn't get to the stiff poll with anything less.
In Front of the Vertical, Still Broken at 3rd...
Overbent, broken at 3rd and poll low,
but still IFV.
This is a very popular outline amongst professionals and laymen alike. Look at it - the horse is nicely rounded in its topline and still open in the throat and in front of the vertical. It doesn't get better than that.
Well, it should. This is usually the way a horse looks its best, when habitually trained to hold the head behind the vertical. The horse still manages to let the nose out, and not invert the neck. But there's still that illusive bottom-line problem. The short muscles on the underside of the neck, that run from jaw/skull to the underside of the top vertebrae of the neck, are used by the horse to keep the roundness of the topline. The artificial bend behind the 2nd vertebra is habitual and set, and the other muscles have adapted to this rounding, and thus the shape of the neck is permanent.
Muscles of the underline curling the neck.
There are worse problems than this, I'll admit. To ride the horse held in by force, or one avoiding contact altogether, is a lot worse. This outline doesn't squeeze the spit glands, nor can it be held by force, and the horse is actually reaching for the bit. So what's the problem with it then?
Well, the problem is that little thing called "half-haltability".
When the horse carries his neck with his spinal column almost aligned straight (and the outline looks curved) the vertebral bodies of the neck are perfectly aligned. They are perfectly aligned for letting themselves be influenced by the half-halt. When a half-halt is given, its action travels along the vertebral bodies and into the back of the horse. A skillful rider can even make it go down into the hindhoof of his choosing, bending the haunches along the way.
In a horse with this mis-alignment, the halfhalt travels 2 vertebrae and then the neck just bends. Horses with this outline can be seen half-halted with a 4-8 inch pull by the rider's hands. The head travels back to meet the underside of the neck, before the spine is finally affected further back. Not exactly refinement, you could say.
On The Bit With Collection
On the bit with collection and an arched neck.
Really, the same criteria comes with this poise as the first "on the bit" poise - the horse needs to relax his poll and lift the base of the neck. Usually he lifts the base even more and erects the neck somewhat. The horse usualy becomes higher in front.
Many riders and trainers think that the whole point of it is for the poll to elevate and the neck to become vertical. Or they think that the more rounded the topline of the neck is, the more collected the horse. And some even think that in collection, the neck should shorten! I've heard world famous commentators say such things at the Olympics! Horrible.
This stems from the fact that the absolute majority of horses ridden in what is thought of as collected movements, in everyday training, and in GP competition have shortened necks. This is not the ideal, it's just very common.
As a matter of fact, the neck poise of the horse changes very little as the horse collects further. Most of the business is now at the hindquarters and the back. An arched neck is an arched neck. You don't get much further, before the back hollows.
Some writers, beginning with Baucher, say that the transfer of the weight over to the hindquarters,
depend on the neck rising and the weight of the head coming back moving the center of gravity backwards.
This happens, and Baucher even measured it, but it's only very little. Besides, for this to have any effect the head and neck must be raised to such an extent that it totally hollows the back of the poor animal, even without the weight of a rider resting upon it. And in a riding horse, this is the last thing we want.
The neck only arches to the extent that the back can sustain. Which does not move very much weight back. What places the body weight over the hindfeet is actually the hindfeet coming under and the hindquarters lowering. And they do both by bending.
Dr Hilary Clayton or Dr Michael Holmström researched the stepping under of the different ranges of the trot from piaffe, over passage, to collected trot over to extended trot, and found that there was no difference in how far forward the hindlegs reached in most of the different trot movements. They actually found that in piaffe, the horses stepped in under themselves less. And this is actually true. It's only logical and not contradictory at all.
The extreme forward grasp of the
hindlegs in extended trot.
In a working trot, the horse moves fairly briskly forward. This means that the frontlegs and the hindlegs both reach far forward to touch down and start supporting the weight. If there was no speed forward, such an attitude of the legs would render a horse which sat down on his rump with the forelegs sticking out in front. The forward reaching touching down legs, don't support a whole lot in this phase. They actually brake. To brake the least (since we don't want to stop) they "give" to the momentum of the body, and let the body glide over their support on the ground. At about vertical they start really supporting. When slanted back they begin to push off.
The moderate forward grasp
of the hindlegs in piaffe.
In the piaffe, there's hardly any momentum, and if there is any, it's up and down. So legs don't reach forward, they support more or less vertically (where they have been all along in the piaffe) and push off vertically (more or less).
The only thing about the step in trot that the horse can change in order to carry more weight behind, is to bend the joints of the hindlegs, to get the quarters to lower and thus take some of the load from the higher frontlegs. The tucked croup and bent hindlegs make the supporting points of the hindlegs come closer to the forehand and thus shortens the body of the horse. Thus he takes on more weight behind.
Moderate Deep - Broken at 3rd
Moderately deep and round neck, BTV and broken at 3rd.
Some riders, usually those with an idea of riding a horse round, or deep or the like, ride their horses in a moderately deep outline. They leave the "ultra deep" for the "experts". In this posture the poll is fairly low. Noone can mistake it for being "up for competition" as they call it. This is considered "training frame" and "good for the back". In the competition ring, the head and neck comes up, at least to some extent.
There are a few things the matter with this theory of "round neck" to "bring the back up". It shows that not very many are aware of how the muscles and bones of the horse's neck and chest work. When it is really a case of David and Gloiath...
Deep and round, BTV, broken at 3rd, strung out.
The 3-4 vertebrae nearest the head, and the head itself have some longer and shorter muscles attached to them, and these go to the area around the withers. The topline muscles, if you will. These muscles are not very bulky and thus not very strong. They are meant to hold the head and neck in certain positions, with their solid attachment being the withers and chest and their mobile attachment being the head. See it as a crane, with a heavy body and a lighter neck, which is governed by pistons and wires. Works alright.
They do not work the other way around. The grip of the crane cannot bend the neck or chassis, cannot tip it over even, unless caught in something really big. It's the same with the horse's neck.
Hollow, BTV, broken at 3rd, strung out.
The top of the neck cannot "round" and by doing this somehow lift the back by pulling on the withers. They simply aren't strong enough. The thoracial chest is massive, and the muscles of the neck tiny.
Even if they were strong enough, what would they use as a counter weight, or solid attachment? To pull something like the withers, they would have to have either a firm foundation (stuck to a wall?) or be so heavy in themselves (heavier than the trunk), that the lesser mass of the back lifts instead. But the head weighs 4% of a horse. And hopefully you do not jam it to the wall.
The active topline pulls the nose out.
So what happens as these muscles pull on the withers? Well, yes, they pull the lighter head towards the withers instead of the other way around, shortening the topline. Isn't this "shortening the neck"?
But hey, if it shortened the neck, they wouldn't do it. And the neck would hollow if the topline shortened, right? But it's not hollow - it's very round.
Yes, the top line is very round because it is not pulling the back up, it is being stretched out. And if they are (obviously) not doing the work, then what is? The muscles cannot "push out". They can only do two things - contract, or release and grow longer. Something else is pulling in the other direction. What? How?
Well, If instead of the head being curled in towards the chest, the head was dropped to the ground, the gravity of Mother Earth would be the one pulling. But the head is not hung down by it's weight - it is lifted back and up, towards the chest. This is not done by some magical piston-like work of the topline. It is done by the underline muscles.
So, OK, we have the spine, which is a bit like a chain with heavy links (since they are so mobile) and we have the topline muscles and the nuchal ligament (red) and the underline muscles. The spine of the neck has its given length. From all the talk of "telescoping the neck" one might think of them as being stretchable, but they are not.
The topline muscles can stretch. And the underline muscles can also stretch. And then we have the nuchal ligament. And it does not stretch very well. It's a ligament, so yes it can stretch, but it's tough. When the horse stretches the nose to the ground for eating, the ligament has its maximum length. When the horse stretches even more (let's say is grazing downhill) the ligament limits the stretch so that it makes the nose poke some, because the ligament pulls the poll back.
When the horse stands up or rests, he has his neck fairly horizontal. This calls for only minor work of the topline to hold the head and neck up. When the horse grazes, which it should be doing 12-18 hours of the day, the topline is stretched to a maximum. The neck vertebrae are also stretched so they align in a straight line. The lines of the nuchal ligament and the spine are parallel.
As the nose is placed in towards the chest, the poll is placed forwards, calling for a longer nuchal ligament, while the spine is of a constant length. As the poll is lowered and pulled forward, the nuchal ligament is stretched around the top of the spine (2nd vertebra) and stretched even more. This calls for an even longer nuchal ligament.
Now, how far can the ligament stretch? What stetches it? Will the mobile, bendable spine stay unaffected by the ligament wrapping stretched around it?
The ligament does not stretch very far. Nor does the back "give" very much so the actual slack that can be used to wrap around the spine of the neck, is not very large. What stretches the ligament is what pulls the nose in - the muscles of the jowl and underneck. So there is pull from below, and resistance from the nuchal ligament above.
Does the spine stay arched inside this tug of war? No. The spine sags from the pressure of being wrapped inside the confinement. The underneck muscles pulling the poll forward to pull the back up. Well, what happens? The weakest part gives. The relatively unsupported joints of the neck spine will bend to exaggerate the S-shape that is already there. This will cause the base of the spine to bulge out. It might not "visibly" bulge out, but if you look carefully, you can see the compressed S-shaped spine inside the tense neck.
Rollkur or Severe Deep
Neck curled severely deep, the face approaching horizontal, back and neck
In this poise, the horse's neck is bent to the max. Some horses actually manage to "bite their own chest" or almost knock themselves with the front knees on the chin.
This is not only bad because of the "overbending" of the top of the spine and the subsequent misalignment of the vertebrae because of it - it also severely upsets the horse's balance.
To at least get the benefit of affecting the horse's back, the head needs to be lowered to quite some extent. Horses ridden in what some modern trainers call "Deep and Up" still manage to sag the back just like a horse going above the bit, and sometimes even more, because of the shortening of the neck and the awkward balance that comes from such an unnatural poise.
Coaxed extremely curled/deep, the back is locked.
Simple thinking would reason that the arched or curled neck would require a longer topline. Thus the topline muscles would pull on the withers and pull the back up. But pulling the back up is heavy work. This kind of task requires the work of the strong hip muscles and the iliopsoas, since they are big and bulky, and attach to the sturdy legs on the ground. The neck just has itself as counterweight, and just becomes tight.
Horses in this position rarely ever show a smooth harmonious neck - there is always bulging of the top of the neck (the splenius) and the topline and underline "fight" each other. The horse never holds his head this far behind the vertical for any longer that a couple of seconds, in nature. And it is always associated with tension as when the horse shows off, or is displaying disobedience/freshness by "snaking" the neck.
Deep and short, in piaffe.
Vision is impaired as well, since the angle of the head is quite unnatural - the horse never holds his head this far behind the vertical for any longer that a couple of seconds, in nature.
Modern research has shown that even in a more natural "on the vertical" position, the vision field of the horse is quite small - basically the ground below his nose. In this posture that would mean that he can see his own chest, period.
I can also imagine that the sense of balance is disrupted, since the balancing organ is located in the ear of the horse just as in humans.
The combo is supposedly not trained in rollkur...
We humans also experience a very different sense of balance if we turn the head in an unusual tilt, or lower it, so that the head fills with blood, while running.
This position is rarely taken without intent. I have only seen that myself on a few rare occasions, when the rider has no sense of feel whatsoever, and just pulls for some reason. Ferro here to the right was supposedly classically schooled without rollkur. Who could have guessed?
Forward-Down-Out or Long'n'Low
Neck elongated, lowered and arched in a relaxing volontary stretch.
A very large group of riders seem to shy away from the term "Long and Low". I guess this is because the word "long" somehow leads them to think about a strung out horse on the forehand slopping around hollow. That is not long and low.
During "Long and Low" the horse must be active and balanced behind, and relaxed and stretched down in front. But even this is feared by the vast group of riders riding the horse "Low and Together" instead. With "together", I mean nose in direction of the chest, which to them somehow makes a stooping poise legitimate. These riders dislike the relaxation part of the exercise. But this is because they would ride a lower, curled outline as part of a training "work" session, with stress on "work". But...
Stretching FDO in a relaxed balanced trot.
This is not a "working" outline! This is a relaxing outline! The work happens in between the stretching down.
It is the change of postures between actively working in a higher frame with more bend in the haunches and hocks, and relaxing down into a forward-down-out stetch that elasticises the back muscles. Not the "pull-stretch-pull-stretch" in a maximally stertched outline. The horse is released into this outline after a short bout of collecting "work". In the "work" he should always show the desire to go in this direction, but not actually do it until the rider lets him slowly take the reins out of the hands.
It is also not necessary to stretch out all the way down to the footing at all times. Horses with awkwardly set on necks can have problems with maintaining balance and rhythm and relaxation over the back if "forced" to take a lower position than their neck muscles can stretch. It's one thing to graze without a rider stretched down, another to trot in rhythm and balance while ridden stretching down.
Stretching forward-down-out all the way.
It can also be good to alternate between letting the horse stretch down fully, and just stretch down some, because always stretching to the ground can cause a horse to think he must do that every time. The horse can start to snatch the reins from you, rooting, not out of disobedience, but simply because he thinks he's doing the right thing.
It can also be a hassle to let the reins out and collect them back up incessantly, so sometimes on can only advance the hands some to allow a half stretch.
Most riders have no idea about just how often they need to let the horse stretch. But a rule of thumb is that if you ask for 10 steps of very collected trot or half steps, the horse needs 20 steps of relaxation FDO to let the muscles pump away the metabolic by-products and get new nutrition via the flowing in blood. To let the horse stretch every time he has made an effort (and even when he made less of an effort) will lure the horse to make an effort, because he likes the reward - the stretch!
Sometimes the discussion on FDO gets caught in the IFV/BTV trap. A horse stretching down can be a tad BTV and all that the viewers see is the BTV. Talk about an elephant in a glass house, for me to be complaining about remarks that horses are BTV! But still.
The lower the horse carries his neck (stretched down) the less bad is BTV. If the horse is sniffing the dirt, a few degrees of BTV is almost nothing. The jowl area is still sort of open, although not perfect. But being BTV in an upright position demands a whole lot more incorrect effort on part of the horse, than if he is a little BTV in a stretched position. So don't fret.
No Posture - Simply Slopping Around
This is not a stretch, just 'not working' slopping around.
Forward-down-out is so often mistaken for this strung out position that has no quality to it whatsoever. This is an OK position walking around the arena for the first 5-10 minutes, or as a break between work. For longer periods of time, the horse ought not to be ridden like this. If it is sitting one wants - use a sofa or a chair. Avoid weighing down the horse's back without activity from behind for extended periods of time. It serves no purpose.
When out and about in the countryside, getting used to the surroundings, and taking it easy, the horse should be ridden actively from behind, so that the hips activate the back to arch under the load. The horse should be ridden straight and relaxed and not be let to sag. That would tire the back awfully and unnecessarily. In between work, a horse could be left to his own devices slopping like this if he needs the "mental relaxation" like the mare in the photo, who is having a hard time taxating for a small obstacle. She gets a lapse or two of walk like this from time to time.
This is not a stretch, just 'not working' slopping around.
Many riders warm up this way, because they mistake it for Long & Low. It is not. This is just a lowered neck, where the horse makes no effort at all to neither stretch the back nor bend the hindlegs to carry the rider right. It is just a slopping poise where a minimum of effort is needed. I can't see any harm in jogging around like this 5 minutes for warm-up, that's true. But don't mistake it for an active stretch Long & Low or that it somehow stretches the back under the saddle. It does however let the horse get used to the rider and get some juices going before work.
Overbent at the Poll
Overbending between the skull and the 1st vertebra of the neck.
This poise is not as common as the "Moderately Deep - Broken at 3rd" that I described above. This is usually a result from trying to get a horse to work "up" after having been trained overbent and "deep", but not giving him enough rein to do so, because the rider tries to hold the front end up with the hands. Some deep ridden horses learn to flex the poll maximally with help from the small underline muscles, and can do it both "up" and "deep".
When overflexed at the poll, the horse gets a bump behind the poll, showing that there is an inaccurate break between the skull and the 1st vertebra. This is located just behind the back edge of the bridle crown piece. A lot of small, but important muscles go from the first vertebra to the poll, and these are generally overstretched and under tension.
The bump behind the crown piece shows
This area should be flat and smooth in the horse ridden on the bit. If it is not, it is either because the rider has undue traction on the reins, pulling the head backwards, overflexing the poll, or because the horse stiffens his jaw and jowl and pulls the head back himself, usually in response to a sharp bit or general discomfort, or just trying to evade the aids. This sort of behaviour makes these muscles bulky, and many overbent horses have huge a mass on each side of the mane, either because they overbend there, or because they don't release there at all and work with these muscles under shortened tension.
Held Up With Force
Exaggerated S-curve of the neck because the rider pulls the head in and up.
This is only all too commonly seen in competition. This does not necessarily have to do with how the horse has been trained, because this can be a result of force in action. The rider pulls like the devil on the reins, to hold the head up, or stop the horse from running away, or to trap his head in a controllable angle. It happens a lot at competitions because of the nerve and tension of being away from home, being alone in the arena, and the rider feeling the pressure to not mess up the test.
Unfortunately very many dressage enthusiasts think that this style looks good and "powerful" and actually think that this IS collection because it's what they see at competitions and they see it rewarded with a high score. That is really sad. What is even sadder is that these horses sometimes win because they are the ones who manage to "stay in the ring" while a lot of the more lightly ridden horses, spook, mess up, resist visibly etc.
Neck pulled up - back pushed down.
The dangers in this posture are many. To the horse, it is detrimental in every way. But it is also bad for the rider's education. To even accomplish this posture, the horse will have to contract his topline over the back, withers and neck.
This pushes the spine down between the frontlegs and pulls the neck up. The contracted muscles across the shoulders make the forehand feel bigger. And as the rider sits there, the forehand feels bigger, the neck comes up so the frontlegs move so big you can see them, and the horse feels lowered behind. The rider naturally mistakes it for collection, when it really is the anti-thesis of collection.
Now, I said the horse feels lowered behind. How can that be? Well, with a saddle between you and your horse's back, and with a horse which hollows and raises the neck, the saddle tilts backwards. The back of the saddle sinks down into the hollow back of your horse, and reinforces the hollowing even more. The effort on behalf of the horse to hold the neck up makes the topline around the withers tense and it inflates. This can easily be mistaken for "raising of the withers" and to be a good thing.
Neck pulled up - back pushed down, legs out behind.
As a matter of fact, it is virtually impossible for the horse to get out of this hollowing posture with a rider heavy on his hollow back and pulling the neck up and back. Even if he wanted to do right, in a situation like this, almost any horse will continue to work incorrectly, or oppose his rider. It is near impossible to lift the back enough to get the hindlegs to swing in under the weight, shorten the bottom-line and arch up under the rider. Working like this has proven to give rise to serious problems like "Kissing Spines", inflamed bursae along the neck, arthritic hocks and front pasterns, rupture in muscles in the shoulder and bone growth on the articular surfaces of the vertebrae of the neck.
And this is indeed why most deep proponents continue to practice and teach riding the horse round and curled - because they dread the illnesses that come with inversion. To them, the opposite of inverted is deep, and the opposite of deep is "Up". This "Up" is not good, except one has to ride it in the competition arena, but since it's hollowish, it's better to ride deep while training, and save the "Up" for the arena. And maybe that's a good thing...
If you can't find a posture where the horse is arched out in his neck and up in his back maybe you have no business trying to tell the horse what posture to take, anyway. Maybe we should all be happy we need to watch a few less riders holding their horses' heads up and riding to the squeaking sound of their kissing spines? In the name of collection.
Processes rubbing against each
other because the back is hollow.
Many riders argue that you can't pull an horse's neck and head up against his will, because in the end, the horse is always stronger than the rider, and the horse will win such a fight. That is, unfortunately, not true. The horse might be stronger, but the rider is much more capable of inflicting pain on his horse than vice versa. The curb helps a great deal, but it is also within reach for most riders to do so with a snaffle, only.
Neck pulled up - back pushed down,
legs out behind.
Also, most riders are much more stubborn than most horses, and have a plan and a goal, and in this case it is to get the neck up. The horse only has a vague sense that he must do something to protect himself, and sometimes, the best way to do that is to endure. Also, moving forward, usually in over-tempo has the effect of releasing endorphins into the horse's system, which numbs the pain to some extent. That's how horses can be ridden in ill-fitting saddles that rub up open wounds, and not react until after they have calmed down, and the tack has been removed. Remember, horses are made to move, and have flight as their only means of survival.
Above the Bit
Above the bit with a poking nose.
Many riders and trainers cannot tell a nicely raised and arched neck from "Above the Bit". They feel that as soon as the horse is somehow selfgovernedly arched and high in front, that must be because he evades the rider's controls. A good horse stays down, pulling the reins downwards.
It is true, that the first time one feels a truly collected horse underneath ones seat, it does feel eerily powerful and uncontrollable, just because the horse isn't trapped and pulling down.
I guess you could say it's a matter of trust. You will have to trust the horse not to come above the bit but to be allowed to rise up and be poised. You have to be confident enough that it doesn't matter that 9 times out of 10, it will end in the horse coming above the bit (as the collection deteriorates) rather than coming down behind the vertical and leaning onto the hands. And that leads me into the sad part of this chapter...
Above the bit fighting contact.
A horse ridden and trained to go behind the vertical for years, will not be able to arch up into poised collection at all. Having that position of the head and neck will lead to the horse coming above the bit. This, because the muscles of the neck have been trained in an exaggerated S-shape and the horse will not be trained to arch and telescope. So the higher bearing of the poll and the forward nose, will automatically make the bottom of the neck and the chest sink between the shoulders, and then horse will re-balance and come above the bit.
Above the bit fighting contact.
Most horses that go above the bit resist the bit action actively. But a lot of the "Look-Mama-No-Hands!" Classicist actually ride their horses above the bit with such little effort to make contact, that the horses have nothing to resist in the first place. These horses can be everything from totally inverted to looking fairly good but in a natural outline. The latter is, of course, better, but the truth is, the horse is still above the bit. For the horse to be on the bit, there needs to be contact, and the horse must yield the muscles at the poll and accept the contact. The bit must lay across the tongue (and possibly the bars) and not be against the molar teeth (because the horse's nose is out due to tense poll muscles).
IFV is not necessarily good at all times.
Many adherers to the classical ideals, like to look at old photos of "the Masters". When they show these to the more modern day dressage oriented riders, the latter usually find the horses to be inverted and over the bit. Honestly, that is sometimes true. I have a few old books where practically all horses are above the bit and inverted in the neck and back. Horses can be all this, and still bend the hocks to quite some extent. I'm not saying it is in any way preferable or alright. To protect the chest and neck the horse needs to be arched in front.
IFV, engaged and collected.
But most modern dressage enthusiansts react to the lesser arch of the neck in almost all of the pictures of the old "masters" Even those who are infinetely correct like Major Nyblaeus here to the right, on his mount Safari at the piaffe. They, instead, like it as round as possible, and even for the muscles of the neck to bulge as much as possible, for it to look impressive and powerful. It does not matter that the neck is arched, smooth, correct and that the entire horse is round from behind, because the nose is forward. That is simply a case of the untrained eye, or someone who might get an equal amount of satisfaction going to watch a monster truck race.
Shortened neck because of the
desire to have the face on the vertical.
In the FEI rules there's been additions lately, regarding the verticality of the head in the most collected movements, like piaffe. The rules now allow for the horse to be on the vertical in the most collected movements. I can see no reason for this change of rules, other than to adapt
to the modern day overbent nouveau dressage. The more collected a horse is, generally the more vertical the neck. The more vertical the neck, the less the head is allowed to hang down vertically. For the head to be vertical when the neck is vertical, the horse needs to use his underline muscles or be held in by the rider, and this makes it harder to arch the neck and lift the back, not easier!
In the piaffe it is much more natural and biomechanically correct to let the horse come into a position fairly well in front of the vertical, because of the arching and raising of the neck. Quite contrary to the changes in the rules.
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