I have a thoroughbred that I have owned for about 2 years now. We have bonded and have figured each other out finally. Now we are working on the details and we need to work on his neck muscle. I use him for hunter and equitation competitions and am looking to start doing rated shows this season. So we need to get more muscle in his neck. His back and butt have improved greatly since I have worked with him but he is super lazy so he tries every way possible to not put his head down. He keeps the part of his neck at that attaches near the wither tight and his lower neck tense.
You can see the under muscling in these pictures and how his lower neck is pretty heavily muscled. He is starting to put his head down but he only every fully relaxes it for a couple seconds.
We do a lot of flat work and circles, bending, leg yields etc.
I thought I might try to get side reins and a surcingle to lunge him and encourage him to develop the correct muscles.
First of all, he is bracing against you when he is riding. You must not pull. All a horse will do is brace. You said that he will do anything not to put his head down. You can't force his head down. Having his head down comes from straightness, balance, impulsion and light contact. You want him moving forward into the contact(light contact). Just get his neck long and low. Forcing a horse's head down is no means to get him round. He will only brace. It takes two to pull.
When riding him, have a much lighter contact. Don't just think about making him put his head down. Ride with the reins longer(but with contact) and push him into the bit. Ask him to relax and extend(not get more forward though, you want him to "swing"). You don't want him short, on his forehand with his head down. If you force his head down that is what will happen.
If you want to lunge him(although I believe that getting a horse round is a riders job so don't just rely on the lunging) then use the simplest gadget or no gadget at all. I suggest vienna reins or side reins. If he goes long and low on the lunge then don't use a gadget. If he uses his bottom neck muscles with his natural headset on the lunge(which he will probably do), then side reins or vienna reins will be beneficial. They will not be beneficial if you use them to tight which pretty much ties their head in. You don't want his head in, you want it down and low. Most of all, you want him moving forward with impulsion.
Thank you for your advice.
However I would like to ask where you got the idea that I braced or pulled against him?
And a little more background: I ride with my reins long, almost too long most of the time. My trainer often tells me to pick up my reins. I can feel his mouth but I don't pull on it or try to force his head down.
And he doesn't actually stretch down. If I give him rein he just holds his head in the same position. He doesn't try to stretch or anything. It's longer, but not low.
And we have been working on impulsion and he actually has plenty of energy now. He nice forward impulsion.
Ok if he's locking at the base of the neck, you really need to do some suppling exercises on him. My horse blocks at the poll AND the base of the neck, a horse needs to be able to go forward while also bending/flexing.
For starters, put him on a 20m circle in a good working trot, ask his jaw to come a little to the inside with your inside rein. When the jaw will give, put your inside leg on, take your inside rein a little more, and ask the inside hind to step slightly across to the outside of the circle, so that you are moving the quarters slightly out while asking for more bend in the poll/neck. Ask the jaw to move to the inside again, then let him straighten. Then ask again, this time asking for more bend to the inside. Then straighten. Continue this sort of work, letting him straighten when he gives to the bend, while also going forward off your leg. Increasing the degree of bend each time you ask. This will start to unlock his neck for you.
Think of the horse's shoulders as a lock, and the neck is the key. The lock is a bit stiff, so you have to wiggle the key a bit to unlock the lock/shoulders. Basically, you should be able to move the horse's head and neck anywhere that you like without the horse bracing against the hand. If you're travelling on a 20m circle to the left, try asking his jaw to come a little to the right and vice versa.
I warm my horse up by trying to move him every which way. We go shoulder in, travers, renvers, shoulder in, leg yield, shoulder in, travers etc. etc. I think ask him deep for half a circle, then bring him up, then deep again with significant flexion to the inside, then deep with significant flexion to the outside and so on.
Always moving the horse around, testing your contact, testing your submission all the while keeping the horse forward and up to the bridle. If you lose impulsion, don't release the bend and push the horse through until he gives. He must not learn to brace when he goes forward. A horse that is doing extended trot for example, should not be against the bridle, you should still be able to move the jaw, poll and neck without the horse leaning and bracing. So your horse can certainly travel forward and soft at the same time :)
Once he is forward and soft in the bridle, the muscle will start to come. But you'll never build topline if you horse has a block in the base of the neck
The above advice is really good. You may not be pulling on him. You may have not enough meaningful contact on him, as your instructor is nagging you about. In order to achieve what Kayty is talking about you woud need to have enough contact to create a change in him. Meaning, to get him to give his jaw, you may actually need to take up more contact than you are used to, but it will be on one rein more than the other, the inside asking for the give of the jaw. And you'll be really ready to release and reward when you get that jaw bend in the very beginning.
From your photos your horse's neck isn't that bad and it woulldn't take much to really make him shine. He has the most elegant head!
Thank you everyone for your advice. I'll definitely try the 20m circle exercise.
Tinyliny: Thank you for the compliment of his head. It's kind of funny that you say that because he has a really refined head from that angle but he also has a roman nose. I personally don't care for roman noses but his has grown on me. :)
When I first got my 8 year old QH mare she had an extreme upside-down neck. She had been, I'm certain ridden all her life in a western tie-down. Here is a picture of her shortly after she came home with me:
It can't be seen very well in that picture, but I have another I'm going to put on here in a moment:
The bottom picture is my Candy after I had her about 5 years. She and I did a lot of condtioning and I retrained her off/out of a tie down/standing martingale.