Hyperflexion in International Dressage: 1992 vs. 2008

Hyperflexion was more common in the 2008 World Cup than the 1992 Olympic Games in dressage classes, researchers found.
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The hyperflexed head and neck position has been the source of much discussion in the past several years. While some laud its benefits, others believe it’s detrimental to horses. And as some believe the practice has becoming more common in the dressage world in the 21st century, horses are receiving higher scores in top international competitions, according to the results of a recent study. But are the two related?

“These horses received higher scores indeed, but there is no way to attribute those scores directly to the head and neck position per sé,” said Willem Back, DVM, Cert. KNMvD (CKRD), Cert. Pract. KNMvD (Equine Practice), PhD, Spec. KNMvD (Equine Surgery), Dipl. ECVS, Prof. (U Ghent), of the Department of Equine Sciences at the Utrecht University Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in the Netherlands. “The quality of the horses and other aspects, like training, has considerably improved over time. Nonetheless, if the heads had been in front of the vertical, overall scores would have been even higher.”

Still, a head and neck position held behind the vertical (dipped closer to his chest than the nose in a vertical line to the ground) was far more common in the 2008 World Cup than the 1992 Olympic Games in dressage classes. Specifically, the top 15 competing horses in 2008 held their heads behind the vertical on average more than 50% of the time in the four main classic dressage gaits, compared to only two of those gaits in 1992, Back said.

In both years, horses kept their heads behind the vertical about 55% of the time in the collected canter and 51-53% of the time in the collected trot, Back said. But in 1992, their heads were behind the vertical only 48% of the time in passage and 45% of the time in piaffe, whereas in 2008 those figures were a staggering 71%, in both gaits

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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