A horse that is too short in its neck will be marked down in dressage tests at all levels. But what does the judge’s comment, “short in the neck,” mean? Why is that a problem, and how do you correct the issue?
Read on to find out!
What does the comment “short in the neck” mean?
If you see the comment “short in the neck” on your dressage score sheet, the judge is referring to the horse’s outline or frame.
A short neck usually indicates that the horse is tight and restricted, rather than appearing soft, supple, and working in a correct outline, stretching through his back and neck to seek the rider’s hand.
Why is a shortened neck a bad thing?
The dressage judge looks at the whole picture of the horse’s way of going, including his outline.
If the horse is working in a correct frame, it follows that the rest of his body will be working along the right lines too.
A horse whose neck is over-shortened will most likely be tight through his back; he’ll lack engagement and will probably be tense, too.
So, essentially, the horse that is working in a tight, restricted frame tells the onlooker that there are fundamental flaws with the basic schooling and/or the horse is tense and not enjoying his experience.
What causes the problem?
Generally, a horse that works in a short, restricted outline indicates that there are problems with the connection.
The early stages of the horse’s training have not progressed correctly along the dressage Scales of Training, and there are issues with suppleness, relaxation, and contact.
Different causes of a short neck
There are several reasons why a horse works with a shortened neck:
- Brief, random shortening
- Behind the vertical
- Bulging at the base of the neck
- Incorrect tempo (tension)
Let’s look at each one individually and how to correct the issue.
1. Brief, random shortening
Sometimes, the judge will see that the horse briefly shortens his neck during transitions or when making turns across the school.
That usually happens during a momentary loss of balance or when the horse loses self-carriage. In such cases, the mark deduction will be minor, as the shortening is not viewed as a major training flaw.
Fixing the problem
Momentary losses of balance and frame generally iron themselves out as the horse becomes stronger and is more able to take more weight onto his hindquarters, developing clearer and more secure self-carriage.
Try setting the horse up for transitions and changes of direction by using half-halts and thinking ahead.
Better preparation and coordination of the aids will help to keep the horse balanced and working through his back to the contact, maintaining the connection, frame, and balance.
2. Behind the vertical
Many times, the judge will note that the horse is working with his nose “behind the vertical.” When a horse works in that way, his neck is often shortened, too.
The seriousness of the problem depends on why the horse is working behind the vertical. Sometimes, a horse will duck behind the vertical to evade contact with the rider’s hand. That might be because the horse finds the bit or bits uncomfortable, or it could be that the rider is using too much hand.
Fixing the problem
The fix for this problem depends on what’s causing the issue in the first place.
First of all, check that the bit(s) you are using fit the horse correctly and don’t have any sharp or worn areas that could be rubbing or pinching him. If the bit fits and is correctly adjusted, ask your vet or equine dentist to check your horse’s mouth and teeth.
Finally, if you’ve recently started riding your horse in a double bridle, switch back to a snaffle to see if that resolves the problem. It could be that you have introduced the double bridle too early in your horse’s training, so take a step back until your horse is better balanced and able to work in self-carriage before trying the double bits again.
Now, turn your attention to your riding.
- Are you carrying your hands in the correct position, or are you pulling back without realizing it?
- Are you using your reins to balance yourself?
- Are you trying to pull or “fiddle” your horse into an outline, rather than riding him forward through his back from behind?
Invest in a few lessons with a good trainer and work on fixing any rider faults that are causing the horse to drop behind the vertical and work with a shortened frame.
Related Read: How to Stop Your Horse Coming Behind the Vertical
3. Bulging at the base of the neck
Sometimes, the horse’s neck comes too short because he is bracing himself against the rider’s contact.
The horse pushes the base of his neck forward, causing the muscles to bulge. That usually indicates that the horse is blocking through his topline and is not working through his back and reaching for the rider’s hand.
When the horse works in that way, it’s extremely difficult for him to flex at the poll, and he will often hollow through his back and shorten his neck.
Fixing the problem
Again, you need to go back to basics.
Focus on working your horse along the dressage Scales of Training, encouraging him to work forward from behind through his back to seek an elastic contact and work in a more correct, open frame.
If the horse pulls or braces against you, use half-halts and lots of transitions to set him back on his haunches. Riding small circles will help to encourage the horse to become more supple to the bend and release the blocking at his poll.
4. Incorrect tempo (tension)
If the horse is “lit up” by the atmosphere of competition, he may hurry and try to run away with his rider.
That increased tempo often results in the rider hanging onto the horse’s mouth and pulling back on the reins. The result is typically a shortened neck and a choppy stride that will be severely penalized by the judge.
Fixing the problem
First of all, you need to encourage your horse to relax and focus on you.
Ride a large circle in rising trot, focusing on keeping your rising steady and in the tempo and rhythm that you want from your horse.
Make the circle smaller to regulate the horse’s tempo, and encourage him to bend around the circle, working into an elastic outside rein contact and bending around your inside leg. Take care not to pull your outside shoulder too far back, as that can create a block in the contact.
If the horse tries to pull, ease your hand forward a few inches so that there’s nothing for the horse to pull against or lean on. Keep your leg on, and encourage the horse to stretch forward and down while keeping a round topline.
As the horse relaxes and the tempo slows, gradually, shorten the reins so that the horse is working in a correct outline, and go large.
Coming too short in the neck is a serious fault that usually indicates flaws in the horse’s basic training or in the riding.
If you’ve had that comment on your dressage scoresheets, try taking a few steps back in the training to re-establish those essential basics.
Did you have problems with your horse coming too short in the neck? How did you fix the issue? Tell us your experience in the comments below.