Purpose: To begin the process of releasing tension in the poll/atlas junction and to improve comfort and range of motion in the poll, atlas, and neck.

Goal: To ask for gentle movement of the poll and neck with the muscles in a relaxed state. This is done by using the nose to wiggle each vertebra of the neck—C1 through C7—while keeping the horse as relaxed as he can be.

**When you move a joint or junction through a range of motion—even a tiny range of motion—in a relaxed state, tension in the connective tissue of and around that joint or junction will release.

Step by Step

  • Use correct hand and body positions (see Phase 1 Techniques DVD, Beyond Horse Massage pp. 33-44, and images in this course).
  • Place one hand on the nose with thumb under the nose-band and finger over. Place fingers of the neck hand on the first vertebra.
  • Begin with the nose hand and neck hand soft, waiting for the horse to relax as much as possible before starting.
  • Wiggle the nose side-to-side. Stop. Begin by using micro-wiggles.
  • Wiggle-wiggle—soften. Wiggle-wiggle—soften.
  • Reposition the neck hand—soften.
  • Wiggle-wiggle—soften.
  • Move gently down the neck in increments, allowing the horse to relax at each repositioning before moving on.
  • Recognize when tension is released and ask for more movement.
  • Anticipate and soften before the horse braces, resists, or evades.
  • Once the initial tension is released and the horse is capable of staying relaxed, ask for increased movement and range of motion in subsequent passes down the neck.
  • Don’t over-focus on any one area, as this may cause bracing or discomfort.
  • Continue to return to this technique from time to time, asking for an increase in movement (in a relaxed state) each time, until you feel there has been an improvement in range of motion and comfort.

If the horse is able to stay relaxed, the Chin Lift can be used to smoothly transition into the Head-Up technique.

Jim Starting LCF, top of neck, at the first vertebra
Starting Lateral Cervical Flexion, at the wing of the atlas.
Jim continues LCF further down the vertebrae
Moving further down the vertebrae, continue LCF
Jim LCF at the base of the neckf
LCF at the base of the neck

If the Horse Braces, Resists, or Evades

  • Soften hands, arms, shoulders, and body before asking for movement.
  • When the horse tenses, soften…then ask again.
  • Ask the horse to step away laterally if he walks or moves his feet.
  • Go to the opposite side or use alternate techniques, then come back.
  • Skip over-reactive areas until the horse is more relaxed.
  • Keep hands soft while asking for movement.
  • Yield when the horse pulls away, while keeping him in the neighborhood.
  • Ask the horse to bring his nose back towards the front if he pushes his head around to the side.
  • Look for noticeable release, relaxation, or improvement in movement—or note if the horse had nothing to release.
  • If technique is unsuccessful or if the horse demonstrates excessive discomfort or restriction in the neck, remember to soften yourself first. Then, move to another technique and return to Lateral Cervical Flexion later, as many times as necessary to get an improvement in comfort and range of motion.
Jim showing soft hands when the horse braces or pulls during LCF
When the horse braces or pulls, soften both hands and shoulders. When he softens, ask again

Safety Note

Be careful not to put direct pressure on the atlas.  It is important to keep this hand soft at all times
Be Aware that the horse might want to move toward you and step on your foot.  Dominant horses will instinctively aim for your foot.

Anatomical Considerations

The poll-atlas junction is the most important junction in the body. This junction is the gateway for the central nervous system from the horse’s brain to the rest of the body. Anything going on in the body is reflected in the poll/atlas, and tension in the poll/atlas affects function and movement in the rest of the body. There is a notable connection between the atlas and the sacrum. This connection is observable during techniques that release tension in the poll and atlas when the horse gets “wobbly” behind and during techniques that release tension in the sacrum when the horse shakes its head in response to sensations in the poll. The brachiocephalic, omotransverse, and other muscles affecting movement of the foreleg, neck and head attach at the forearm on one end, and at the poll, atlas and upper neck at the other. Techniques that focus on releasing tension at one end of these muscles such as Head-Up and Lateral Cervical Flexion also affect the muscles at the other end, while techniques focusing on the lower end, such as Scapula Releases, also affect the upper end around the poll and atlas.

Anatomical Considerations (Visuals)

Lateral Cervical Flexion Video

Technique Breakdown

Technique Breakdown PDF

If you wish to follow along with the specific questions asked in the Technique Breakdown video (the time-codes are referencing the first video on this page), download the Technique Breakdown PDF.

Deliberate Practice

Once you enroll in this course, you will have access to the Deliberate Practice Guide and Worksheet for each technique. One thing Jim repeats is that “Deliberate Practice has no end point!” And that’s the point – you are never “complete.”  The more you practice a technique by finding tiny gaps, the more you notice and improve, ad infinitum. The learning gets deeper until you are always learning, always adjusting. When that shift occurs, you are hungry for resources and for time to practice because you’ve seen how a tiny shift in the way you pay attention has made such a huge difference for the horse.  You go from minding the gap to loving the gap because that’s where you’ll find the next tiny shift that makes a big difference.