The Head Bone is Connected to the Neck Bone
 By Winniefield Park   •   31st Oct 2015   •   1,281 views   •   0 comments

Have you ever really thought about a horse’s neck? I mean, not just to admire a pretty arched neck. Or, to contemplate that beautiful flowing mane growing out of the top of one, despair over an inverted neck or worry about a fat one? Underneath the mane, the glossy coat, the thick but sensitive skin, just what’s going on?

Like every mammal, horses have bones. And, oddly enough, most mammals have the same types of bones and the bones have the same functions. Bones hold us up. We’d all be a lot closer to the ground if we didn’t have bones. Bones give us our basic shape. Without bones we’d be more like slugs. And bones shield the soft organs within us that would be damaged without protection. Bones also help us move, help produce some types of cells and store some vital chemicals within our bodies. And, it’s the same for our horses.

Even though horses are bigger, we have more bones than they do, 205 to our 207. We start out with even more, but as we age, some fuse together. The neck bones of the horse are part of the vertebral or spinal column. The neck bones themselves are called the cervical vertebrae, and there are only seven of them. The first vertebrae called the atlas, after the mythological Greek character that holds the world up on his back, joins the skull to the spine. And the next is the axis. These two vertebrae support and allow the skull to move. Also called C1 and C2, they give your horse’s head a wide range of motion up, down and side to side. These are also the two commonly adjusted by equine chiropractors.

Related: Your Horse From the Ground Up - The Lower Leg
Related: Your Horse From the Ground Up - The Hindquarters

Next down are C3, C4, C5, C6, and C7. These vertebrae don’t allow quite as much movement as C1, and C2, but still allow some sideways and up and down motion. When your horse is head-down, such as when it’s eating, the bend comes from C7 and the first thoracic vertebrae, known as T1. It may seem like a horse’s neck starts at its withers, but the large spinal process -that up-jutting of bone that makes the withers stand out is actually T3 and T4. These large flanges are where the big muscles of the forequarters anchor. The horse’s neck is attached much lower than it appears, about halfway down the angle of the shoulder. When you consider this, it becomes easier to understand why a horse that is overbent or ridden in hyperflexion is strained.

Holding all of these bones together are muscles, tendons and ligaments. Ligaments hold the bones together. Tendons anchor muscles to bones. The nuchal ligament is one you might have heard about. There seems to be a lot of misinformation about this ligament, and one peer reviewed study suggests it’s not where most people think it is, running down C2 to C7. Rather, research suggests that it actually runs from C2 to C5. Nevertheless, it is important in allowing the horse to raise and lower its head.

The muscle along the top of the neck is called the rhomboid muscle. You can feel this easily just under the mane. On the underside of the neck are two large muscles you can also easily feel. The lower one is sternocephalicus and the other is called the brachiocephalicus. These run from the skull down to the chest. There are also several smaller muscles that attach to each individual neck vertebrae and anchor to the thoracic vertebrae and the shoulder almost like the web of wires that hold up a suspension bridge. Seeing this makes you realize just how important good saddle fit is, because there really is so much going on just in front of the saddle area.

Another structure you can feel from the outside of a horse is the esophagus. This runs down the lower center of your horse’s neck and can be felt from the side of the neck. This tube is ringed with strong muscular tissue that helps food down into the stomach. A rounded tube can also be felt on the underside of the neck and this is the trachea. Even though this is attached to the sinuses in the skull above the horse’s mouth, the trachea crosses path with the esophagus. The esophagus nests on top of the trachea in the neck region, before branching off to attach to the stomach, which sits roughly below where you are seated on the horse’s back.

It’s easy to forget in looking at the outside of our horses, just how amazing the inside is. Learning about all those internal parts also helps us understand how our horses move and how we can help them function more comfortably.
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