Excerpt from the OsteoDressage book on the long and low position:
After being familiarized with being ridden or lunged, a (young) horse in the trot may drop his neck very low, with his nose almost touching the sand. This usually happens when he is totally relaxed. A lot of criticism has been aimed at this position recently, and people claim it brings too much weight on the forehand, thus overtaxing the front limbs of the horse. However, when you come to think of it you'll realize that the anatomy of the horse's forehand is excellently adapted to sustaining a deep neck position, since nature has designed it to carry around 60% of the weight of the horse. There are two suspensory ligaments in the fore leg (one for the superficial and one for the deep bending tendon), whereas there is only one suspensory ligament in the back leg, which supports the deep bending tendon. Moreover, as a rule, the front hooves are larger, which is proof that they are destined to carry more weight.
The actual weight distribution between the forehand and the hindquarters depends much less on the position of the head and neck of the horse than has hitherto been assumed: An extensive study was carried through in 2006, during which the load on the forehand was measured. The load distribution for different head and neck positions varied only by a maximum of 2% (which is, for a horse with a weight of 500 kg, a total of 10 kg) - a surprisingly low number, especially if you take into account that the weight of the rider may be up to 15% of the weight of the horse (75 kg for a 500 kg horse).
Therefore, we may safely say that the positive effects of the extended down and out neck position (enabling the M. serratus ventralis, the most important muscle that supports the body and stabilizes the spine, to work in a physiologically correct fashion, for example) are considerably more important than the additional small load on the forehand, which adds up to just a few kilograms. A horse that is ridden in an extended low neck position bears only 0.02% more weight on the forehand than an unridden horse in his natural, free head and neck position. This additional weight adds up to 100 grams for a 500 kg horse, the weight of a chocolate bar.
(Please also see Weishaupt et al, Zurich University, and the respective article referring to this study, written by Dr. Kathrin Kienapfel, and published in the 3rd issue of the German magazine "ReitKultur“.)
From a rider's point of view, we should add that a short-stepped trot with an extended low neck and head position should only serve to make the horse more supple. This kind of trot can never be the aim of dressage but its starting point. No horse should be made to walk around like that forever, but being able to trot easily while the parasympathetic nervous system is active and the dorsal muscle chain is relaxed classically paves the way for making the horse responsive to the aids and to "close" him in collection. After this short time in a relaxed trot after the warm-up phase (Podhajsky recommends around ten minutes), the horse should be supple, thus allowing the rider to bring him into a long, low and out position, so he starts rounding his back and supporting the weight of the rider, and/or a working position with an increasingly upright posture, until the healthy dressage posture can be reached.
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