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,