Sometimes a ewe neck is the result of incorrect riding, but it can also be caused by the serratus muscles not working properly. The serratus muscles , which attach to four of the neck vertebrae and the first nine ribs,are responsible for lifting the chest and arching the neck. When the serratus muscles are tight, the horse appears to be on the forehand. Massage can loosen the cervical and thoracic serratus muscles. The horse will appear to re-balance as the muscles begin to function correctly.
I’m going to discuss the rhomboids and trapezius muscles as one, since it is very difficult to differentiate them by touch or by performance. The rhomboid and trapezius muscles cover the withers and go up the neck to the poll. They are the muscles that allow the neck to arch. When contracted, they can cause a ewe neck to develop. This muscle is also attached to the shoulder blade and pulls it forward and up in motion. Healthy muscles in this area will allow a horse to travel in an uphill frame comfortable and naturally.
Many horses have a dip in front of their withers. That is an indication of a tight rhomboid. Since this tightness can take up to a year to change, I always show owners how to massage the area so it can be done on a daily basis.
Tightness in the trapezius can cause a hollow back. It is important to release the tension since the horse will often develop hind end problems to compensate for the discomfort. Everything is connected! When the rhomboid/trapezius area is contracted, I almost always find trouble in the muscles of the shoulder. I will discuss those muscles (spinatus) in another post.
We have all read books and taken fantastic clinics that point out the correct frame for our horses. Usually the focus is on the neck and head, but the problem really begins in the shoulder blades: When the shoulder blades go forward (just the same as in humans, see photos below) the withers sink and create a ewe neck. The vicious cycle begins: the muscles on the underside of the neck bulk up and the crest gets tighter and underdeveloped. Once proper posture is restored through various releases, self carriage is possible. The neck will appear longer and the withers will look higher. I have a client (a thoroughbred) who had a devastating accident a few years ago. His withers were shattered in three places and were completely sunken. There was a literal “valley” between his shoulder blades Gradually, through chiropractic treatment and many massages, this horse appears to be “growing” withers. He is ridden correctly and seems to be regaining the several inches in height that he lost in the accident. He is now competing at Training level in eventing and is back to his naughty, chestnut ways!