One important thing you can, and should do, for your horse is to release her neck. While all power and propulsion should come from the rear, everything for posture, proper body carriage and agility has its roots in a free neck, free poll, relaxed axis, unlocked vertebrae and neck muscles.
|Kessy loves the "Caterpillar" exercise.|
This nifty little exercise Peggy Cummings calls the “Caterpillar” can insure your horse can move her head and neck (and therefore her body) comfortably, easily, with grace and confidence. Sadly many horses are so tense in this important area they are forced to “push through” the pain, restrictions and bad posture created by the tightness, that comfort and grace are unattainable. Going along with the discomfort is an impediment to their vision, when a horse is locked in this area their vision is also impaired.
What causes this tightness? Many things, teeth issues, improper foot care, tie downs, running martingales, horses on their forehands, rider’s poor posture, poor fitting saddles, repetitive speed events, or anything repetitive, riding over-collected, inverted and hollow-backed and so many more things the list is long indeed ... But understand all horses will benefit from this exercise even a retired pasture buddy.
This nifty little exercise, so easy to learn, can help so much.
Start by standing next to your horse in neutral, your shoulders soft, one hand gently supporting at the halter noseband. Your other hand cupped at the base of her neck with your thumb in the jugular grove, fingers surrounding the vertebrae and heel of your hand resting on the big muscle as shown here with Kessy and me.
This is a 3 step exercise—First with your hand cupped and just enough pressure to move the skin, push your hand along the big muscle, thumb in the groove, all the way to her ear. Watch for the release, as you see Kessy doing. Note—some very tight horses will back away or swing their heads because to offer a release is unknown to them or they simply cannot give and flex they are that locked. Be gentle, do not restrict, walk with her. In time the releases will begin.
Step 2—Begin again at the base of the neck, your hands as they were the first time. You will again travel to her ear along the vertebrae and groove, but this time your fingers will grip the muscle and vertebrae as they walk along up her neck. Think of a “caterpillar” walking up her neck. Apply a little more pressure, enough to move the skin and sink your fingers in just a little, you do want to move things. Your horse will guide you as to the pressure. She’ll say, “Back off!” or “Yes that’s it!”
Step 3—Again begin at the base, your hands in the same positions—Slide AND walk your hand up her neck to her ear. Sliding your heel while your fingers walk, jiggle and grip all together in a fluid motion. Moving skin, muscle and releasing vertebrae all along her neck to her ear and axis. REMEMBER—Do Both Sides— Even the first time you do all 3 steps, at this point you’ll see a change in her posture, her eyes, her softness and awareness.
For some extremely locked horses it will be a challenge, be gentle, take it slow. Some horses will offer a series of releases even as your hand moves along, be sure to allow them, watch for them.
Kessy and I hope you’ll add this little exercise to your daily routine. All horses can and will benefit from this and once you’ve mastered it together it will take about 3 minutes to do. The changes you’ll discover in your horses attitude, posture, grace, beauty and contentment will astonish you.
Gitty Up, Dutch Henry
For more exercises to benefit your horse CLICK HERE to go to my 4 part series-"Pt 1-Restarting, Conditioning, and Great Exercises For Your Horse"(with links to all 4 parts)