Authors: Rebeka R. Zsoldos and Theresia F. Licka Published: Zoology 118 (2015) 364–376
Abstract (click on the link above to download the full article): During both locomotion and body movements at stance, the head and neck of the horse are a major craniocaudal and lateral balancing mechanism employing input from the visual, vestibular and proprioceptive systems. The function of the equine neck has recently become the focus of several research groups; this is probably also feeding on an increase of interest in the equine neck in equestrian sports, with a controversial discussion of speciﬁc neck positions such as maximum head and neck ﬂexion. The aim of this review is to offer an overview of new ﬁndings on the structures and functions of the equine neck, illustrating their interplay. The movement of the neck is based on intervertebral motion, but it is also an integral part of locomotion; this is illustrated by the different neck conformations in the breeds of horses used for various types of work. The considerable effect of the neck movement and posture onto the whole trunk and even the limbs is transmitted via bony, ligamentous and muscular structures. Also, the fact that the neck position can easily be inﬂuenced by the rider and/or by the employment of training aids makes it an important avenue for training of new movements of the neck as well as the whole horse. Additionally, the neck position also affects the cervical spinal cord as well as the roots of the spinal nerves; besides the commonly encountered long-term neurological effects of cervical vertebral disorders, short-term changes of neural and muscular function have also been identiﬁed in the maximum ﬂexion of the cranial neck and head position. During locomotion, the neck stores elastic energy within the passive tissues such as ligaments, joint capsules and fasciae. For adequate stabilisation, additional muscle activity is necessary; this is learned and requires constant muscle training as it is essential to prevent excessive wear and tear on the vertebral joints and also repetitive or single trauma to the spinal nerves and the spinal cord. The capability for this stabilisation decreases with age in the majority of horses due to changes in muscle tissue, muscle coordination and consequently muscle strength.