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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
At what point does lowering the head for stretching the spine become counter productive? Thinking making the horse work with its nose to the ground. Would love some links to related articles.

My reason for asking has to do with evaluating a training method. Thank you!
 

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I see value in letting a horse lower its head and stretch as a release from muscular tension. There is also an advantage in that a lower head raises the back by stretching the ligaments and tendons, thus providing some relief to the spine without depending so much on muscular effort.

On the flip side, a lower head increases the amount of weight the front legs must carry.

If the purpose is to give the horse relief, I would let the horse decide where it wants to carry its head.
 

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Can you expound a bit on the training process you are evaluating?


Lowering the neck has other values; it helps the horse relax. It is well known that when a horse lowers his head, all the way down as if to graze, there is a relaxation that happens. Cowboys used to do this to the horse (from the ground), and called it 'putting the horse in the closet' , or something akin to that. It kind of shuts down their anxiety response.
 

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@bsms I think what the OP may be talking about is that lowering the head can stretch out the Nuchal Ligament, which runs along the neck and back. Not the spine itself.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
The training method has to do with gaiting. I understand the value of relaxation and the perils of stargazing, but I see no value in peanut rolling as a training technique, and I know some of the dearly held notions about lowering the head=raising the back are being scientifically disproven. bsms, I think you've provided the link I was looking for. Thanks!
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
bsms, great stuff! So much theory passing as scientific fact out there. Thanks again for posting those links!
 

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Lower the neck too far and the horse loses the ability to balance and carry themselves. They can't maintain a working gait if they are too low, their core muscles won't be able to support them.

What is too low depends on the horse. The strong and more balanced the horse is, the further down they can reach while still maiming their balance. In dressage, while working in a long and low position you don't want their nose any lower than the point of the shoulder, generally. Most horses cant work lower than that.

You can go lower for relaxation and stretching purposes, but they will get on the forehand and the core can't engage so its not a working position.
 

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I would urge people to be careful not to also fall for some ‘Scientific studies’ as not all scientists are created equal and some aren’t always suitably qualified in the practice they are preaching in.

In dressage the lowering of the head as the horse seeks the contact in the free walk is part of the test but if you’re only using it to allow the horse a chance to relax and stretch itself after a length of time working in a more collected frame then I agree with TXhorseman - let the horse have enough rein to decide for itself
 

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"The pathologist explained that in order to create horizontal forces, (forward movement,) and vertical forces, (resistance to gravity and balance control), two muscles are needed, one acting horizontally and one acting vertically, or, a single muscle acting in an oblique manner. Such insertion allows the same muscle to create both horizontal and vertical forces. This is exactly how the fascicles of the main back muscles are oriented and function. This was the beginning of a long series of research aiming toward a functioning of the horse’s back muscles based on the subtle management of forces instead of increasing the movements of the vertebrae. This was 1969 and we were, at that time, already far away from the infantile idea that a single action such as lowering the neck could flex the whole thoracolumbar spine and also that gaits and performances can be improved by increasing the range of motion of the horse’s thoracolumbar column.

Rooney also questioned the veracity of the bow and string concept. As a pathologist, Rooney observed firsthand the discrepancy between the large mass and power of the back muscles and small mass and limited power of the abdominal muscles....

...In 1980, Leo Jeffcott measured the range of possible movement of the horse’s vertebral column. Many studies after Jeffcott found differences in the location of vertebral column movements but they all found a limited range of motion. Basically, the back muscles do not increase the vertebral column range of movement but, at the contrary, resist forces induced on the horse’s vertebral column in order to maintain the vertebral column movements within the limits of its possible range of motion....

...One of the most common deceptions is the belief that the lowering of the neck flexes the lumbar vertebrae and increases their range of motion. The optical illusion was explained in 1986 by Jean Marie Denoix. The lowering of the neck reduces the mobility of the lumbar vertebrae. This is true for every horse. Stiffening of the lumbar vertebrae hampers proper dorso-ventral rotation of the pelvis and therefore sound kinematics of the hind legs. In order to compensate for the stiffening of the lumbar vertebrae, the horse increases the work of the iliopsoas muscles, which swings the hind limbs forward. Since the iliopsoas is placed under the lumbosacral junction, increased work of the iliopsoas muscle does induce greater rotation of the lumbosacral junction. This lumbosacral rotation does give the optical illusion that the whole lumbar region moves. In fact, the lumbar vertebrae do not flex. Instead, the horse compensates for the rigidity of the lumbar spine, that was created by the lowering of the neck, with greater intensity in the lumbosacral junction that is situated behind the lumbar vertebrae. The theories of relaxation, stretching and greater mobility of the vertebral column are naïve interpretations of a mechanism which in fact, is working exactly the opposite way..."


Equine Back Research
"...or, a single muscle acting in an oblique manner. Such insertion allows the same muscle to create both horizontal and vertical forces."

When a muscle contracts, it brings the two ends closer. When it relaxes, it allows the points of attachment to separate. If Jean Luc Cornille, the examining where the muscles attach would show what the muscle can do. If the muscles attach at 45 degree angles, a contraction can create forces acting in two directions. It also ought to be a matter of simple dissection to KNOW where the muscles attach.

If the muscles has attachment to each of the vertebrae, then don't you have a segmented muscle - one that looks like a long muscle but that acts as many small ones?

"It is hard to get a good picture of what the longissimus looks like, because it is a complicated muscle. In the diagram above, all the numbers from 43 to 47 are part of the longissimus complex of muscles. In this picture, they look like long bands of muscle that run from back to front. However, the first drawing is a more accurate, showing that it is actually made up of segments of muscle that only run a short way, not the whole length of the back."


https://www.rodnikkel.com/content/i...log-from-shop-and-desk/the-longissimus-dorsi/
There may be a reason horses rarely trot around like this - without a human:

 

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Personally (and as not so-great-a-rider in that I don't compete or train etc) I would just let the horse decide and base my decision on how well they go/don't go. Well, it's something that's been shared with me by a few professionals. I gotta say it's much harder when you don't know what you're looking for (or feeling for!) to compare. I asked this question once when trotting around and mine was asking to stretch out. Response:

Instructor: "Well let her go as low as you think feels good"
Me: ....

I'd say its only in the last few months I've begun to find the sweet spot to not risk killing ourselves by being so on the forehand as to practically be a two legged horse haha >.< Interesting thread! Biomechanics is just one big fat rabbit hole eh.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Lower the neck too far and the horse loses the ability to balance and carry themselves. They can't maintain a working gait if they are too low, their core muscles won't be able to support them.

What is too low depends on the horse. The strong and more balanced the horse is, the further down they can reach while still maiming their balance. In dressage, while working in a long and low position you don't want their nose any lower than the point of the shoulder, generally. Most horses cant work lower than that.

You can go lower for relaxation and stretching purposes, but they will get on the forehand and the core can't engage so its not a working position.
Yeah, this! I have become so skeptical of training methods that put the horse in extreme or exaggerated postures, and this just doesn't resonate with me, so I think I'll continue on with other methods that seem sound in theory to me. I never " got" dumping a horse on its forehand as a training technique.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
I would urge people to be careful not to also fall for some ‘Scientific studies’ as not all scientists are created equal and some aren’t always suitably qualified in the practice they are preaching in.

In dressage the lowering of the head as the horse seeks the contact in the free walk is part of the test but if you’re only using it to allow the horse a chance to relax and stretch itself after a length of time working in a more collected frame then I agree with TXhorseman - let the horse have enough rein to decide for itself
Yes, of course relaxation is important, but specifically I'm talking about nose in the dirt as part of a training protocol...unless I missed the fine print.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
The "nose in the dirt" idea probably was the result of thinking: "If a little is good, a lot is better."
Like rollkur, if a little vertical flexion is good...

I can't argue with someone else's success, but in horse training, there are countless roads to Rome.
 

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I've never dissected a horse, so all I know is what I've experienced first hand.

And it SEEMS to me that a horse carries a rider with less strain when his head and neck are down, much as I would hunch up to carry a heavy pack. Also, after a few minutes of asking for such a posture, it SEEMS that my horses move out a little better. It SEEMS to be a mild way of getting them to stretch.

Of course the front legs will carry more weight, but the front legs are designed to carry more weight.

HOW long and low would depend on the horse. Some QHs seem to be able to "roll peanuts" without stressing out but I don't see any benefit to going to extremes.

On a side note, neither have I found any benefit doing L & L unless he's moving. A resting horse, with his head down, isn't doing long-and-low, he's just being comfortable.
 
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