Baited Stretches: Cervical Region

Baited stretches can be used to assess the range of motion and fluidity of movement of the head and neck by positioning the treat in specific locations relative to the horse. The quality of the induced motion is observed and position of the horse’s head or distance of the horse’s muzzle from the trunk is measured. Normally, horses should be able to move their head and neck in free and fluid movements and readily touch their girth region without any lunging toward the treat.

Diagnostically, the treat can be positioned at three different heights and positions to evaluate the flexibility and coordination of induced head and neck postures.

  1. Lateral bending of the cranial cervical region: The treat is constantly held at the height of the withers to maintain cervical extension. The treat is positioned lateral to the horses’ head and then moved caudally to direct the muzzle of the horse laterally and caudally until the horse’s head is facing caudally (180°) or until the horse is no longer able to follow the treat (i.e., end range of motion). This position concentrates the induced laterally bending to the atlantooccipital joint.
  2. Lateral bending of the middle cervical region: The treat is initially positioned approximately 12–18 inches lateral to the head as the horse’s muzzle is directed laterally and caudally toward the point of the elbow or girth region. This position places the neck in a neutral flexion-extension posture and concentrates the induced laterally bending to the middle cervical region.
  3. Lateral bending of the caudal cervical region: The treat is initially positioned approximately 12–18 inches lateral to the head and the horses’ muzzle is directed laterally and ventrally toward the lateral surface of the ipsilateral carpus to induce concurrent cervical flexion. Attention is focused on the ability to laterally bend the caudal cervical region around the scapula or shoulder region.

Therapeutically, if the horse has left-right asymmetries or restricted head and neck movement, then repeated application of this exercise is indicated. If, after several repeated attempts, an exaggerated or painful response is consistently noted, then referral to a veterinarian for evaluation of underlying neck pain or dysfunction is indicated.

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