The braciocephalicus muscle is located in the neck and runs from the top of the horses poll, to the point of the shoulder. This muscle extends the shoulder, brings the leg forward and also flexes the neck.
The pectorals are four separate muscles, two are superficial and the other two are within the deeper muscle group. The two superficial muscles make up most of the horses chest. The first superficial pectoral adducts the front legs, and moves the front legs forward. The second pulls the front legs towards the body.
When a horse is in pain it will start to compensate and begin to change its usual way of going in order to make itself more comfortable. In practice I have noticed that the braciocephalicus and pectoral muscles are common culprates for this. If one of these muscles are restricted/sore, then the other almost always shows symptoms of pain too, due to one muscle compensating to relieve the other.
Why is this?
Firstly if we look at some of the causes of pain in these muscles, it will help us to understand the pattern of the muscles compensating.
So one of the most obvious and more common causes of pain in the pectoral muscles is OVER GIRTHING, or GIRTHING UP TOO QUICKLY. When a girth is pulled too tight or too quickly it causes discomfort and restriction in the abdominal and pectoral muscles. This will cause the horse to become restricted in its movement, and may cause a shorter or choppier stride. Over time, riders will notice more obvious symptoms such as a lack of impulsion, sudden higher head carriage and difficulty working over its back. The horse may then start to put more strain on the neck. This will to cause tightness in the braciocephalicus and also the poll.
You may notice the horse starting to show discomfort in the braciocephalicus when palpitating it, and the horse may become unhappy when grooming around the poll, neck and shoulder area. An interest point to note, these symptoms mentioned above are also very typical for a horse with ulcers. I have treated horses who are showing these symptoms, such as being unhappy being girthed up, dislike being brushed (mainly around the neck) etc… Owners are often confused when ulcer test results have come back as negative. When I have assessed these horses, I always find issues in the braciocephalicus and pectorals.
A common cause of tenderness and pain in the braciocephalicus muscle is from the muscle being overworked. Disciplines such as dressage, especially at the higher levels will increase the demand on this muscle when performing certain moves. When this muscle becomes tight, the horse will begin to show difficulty flexing its neck and may become shorter in its stride, changing its way of going, and causing them to be more suseptable to Injury. You will also start to see the same symptoms mentioned earlier.
Other causes of pain in brachiocephalicus muscles and Pectorals muscles could also include:
- Foot imbalances
- Poor dental work
- Ill fitting tack.
- Rider influence.
- Poorly managed work load.
- Ill fitting rugs / rugs slipping back.
In order to treat issues with these muscles, and to have a long term improvement, regular body work is vital to help keep muscles supple and healthy. Also any potential issues will be spotted prior to them becoming more of a problem. PREVENTION IS KEY.
Equally important is the aftercare advice, in order for these muscles to stay healthy. Passive stretches, ground and ridden exercises are vital. They will all help to rehabilitate the muscles and make them less prone to injury.
There are a number of acupressure points and simple stretches that I often give to owners to help keep the braciocephalicus and pectoral muscles supple. They are really simple to do, and can be added to your daily routine without much hassle.
Next week I will include some of these stretches which you can try out on your horse Home.
If any of these symptoms sound familiar feel free to contact me via my website, facebook (@equinetherapywales) or call on 07969807957