You’ve likely seen the sales and breeding advertisements of horses with arched necks and tucked noses looking “fancy.” For better or worse, these exaggerated postures probably even caught your eye for a second. But what can these headsets tell you about the horse and its level of training?

Equitation science researchers Kara Hutchings and Hayley Randle, PhD, from Duchy College in Cornwall, United Kingdom, wondered as well, and decided to investigate what sellers are trying to communicate to potential buyers with sales-horse photos. The pair presented results of their study at the 9th Annual International Society for Equitation Science conference, held July 18-20 at the University of Delaware in Newark.

The researchers selected images of 914 horses advertised for sale on popular U.K. equine sales websites. Horses were a minimum of 14 hands tall. The photographs were of the horses in motion from a perpendicular viewpoint. The researchers used a subjective five-point scale developed specifically for the study, ranging from a -2, indicating a behind the vertical (nose to or near chest) position, to +2, indicating a natural head carriage. The head positions of the horses were then categorized based on the scale.

Of the horses examined, about 70% held their heads behind the vertical while only about 20% held their head in front of the vertical, and roughly 8% held their heads at the vertical. Descriptive words in the advertisement of horses with their heads behind the vertical included:

  • Dressage;
  • Well-schooled;
  • Professionally schooled;
  • Potential sport horse; 
  • Snaffle mo