Braciocephalicus & pectoral muscles – Signs, symptoms and causes of pain

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Brachiopephalicus muscle

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.



Pectoral muscles

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.

Pectoral muscles

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.

Braciocephalicus muscle

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

Are you warming your horse up enough during the winter?

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Why its vital to give your horse a proper winter warm up?

The cold weather can lead to stiff muscles and not to mention the dreaded “cold weather friskies!”

Some horses may not be in as regular work, or maybe stabled for longer periods of time due to the drop in temperature and the darker evenings. This can often mean playful behavior in the field which can sometimes cause injuries. Even if your horse is in regular work, it is still vital that you are giving extra time to warm up your horse.

Here are some tips to try which could help to prevent muscle related injuries.

Before you tack up, make sure your horse is warm before you begin.

You can do this by simply extending your grooming session, using a soft bristled brush in a circular motion down the neck , across the back and hind quarters. This can be very effective to increase blood flow, and will help begin to warm up the muscles.

If you feel you need to clip your horse make sure the type of clip is reflected in the amount of work your horse is doing. A bib, or blanket clip may be enough if your horse in only in light/medium work

brushingbib clip

Try extending walking exercises when beginning work, allowing your horse to walk for a longer period of time. This will give the muscles more opportunity to warm up and also adjust to the colder temperature. Walking on a long rein, will also help to keep the muscles relaxed.

Keep your horse in regular work. Doing this will help keep your horse more level headed, and will also help to keep the muscles more supple. Even if you are unable to dedicate large amounts of time to work your horse. Light amounts more often is better than heavy work at irregular periods.

Try using an exercise rug during warm up. The ever growing equine industry offers a huge range of rugs purposely made for use during riding activity. They can be really beneficial to help keep the lumbar and hind quarters warm. But not all horses are comfortable wearing one, so make sure your horse is relaxed and happy before mounting.

Some great examples of exercise sheets here!

Try adding heat. During the colder months I use the Epiony heat pad with treatments. Its is ideal to use on the back, lumbar and hind quarters. Perfect for warming your horses muscles as you groom or tack up! Please see the link for more information and how to purchase.



Regular body work. Regular sports massage treatments can be beneficial all year round, however during the colder months they can be even more crucial. A good therapist will be able to find any issues before they become more of a problem. Regular treatments will help keep muscles more supple, and could prevent any soft tissue injuries. Please see Aimee Hailstone Equine Sports Massage for more info!

But don’t forget to always be aware of any sudden changes in behavior, and listen to your horse for signs which suggests they may be experiencing discomfort.

Please feel free to share your warm up routines, and come back next week if you’d like to find out more information on some great tried and tested warm up routines from a few of the professionals.

(Pictures sourced from google search engine)

What is Equine Sports Massage, and how can it benefit your horse?

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Equine Sports Massage, Keeping horses young and old feeling supple and comfortable – Ready for whatever we decide to throw at them!

My treatments are regularly used by top riders to keep their horses in tip top condition and ready to perform at their best.

Clients include horses: Eventing, Endurance, PC & RC, Dressage, Showing, Show-jumpers, Hacking

Equine massage is the therapeutic application of professional sports massage techniques applied to a horse.

Like all human athletes, horses can also greatly benefit from a sports massage.

A sports massage can:

  • keep muscles in top condition by increasing and improving the circulation;
  • improving muscular imbalance;
  • maintaining strength and suppleness;
  • prevent muscle atrophy;
  • remove muscle spasms;
  • improve a horse’s range of motion;
  • help to prevent tendon injuries; and
  • it also has a significant calming and relaxing effect on horses.

After a heavy work load, equine massage can help reduce stiffness, and can help to speed up the natural repair of damaged tissue.

Does your horse do or show signs of any of the following:

  • Dislikes being groomed
  • Prefer one rein
  • Show lateral stiffness
  • Reluctant to canter on one lead
  • Hollow backed
  • High headed
  • Head shaking
  • Bucking
  • Cold backed when tacked up
  • Lack of poll flexion and bend
  • Head tilting
  • Have an uneven stride length
  • Holding the tail to one side
  • Excessive rolling

To book an appointment or for more information you can contact me via the link below

Tel: 07969807957