Hyperflexion in Review

Hyperflexion—a position in which a horse’s nose is behind the vertical—became a welfare focus in the 1990s. Over the years it has grown increasingly common to see elite dressage horses performing in this head and neck position. And today, the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) has rules against hyperflexion, citing that it’s “mental abuse” to the horse and “a result of aggressive riding.”

Still, some hyperflexion proponents claim the position has positive performance effects.

To determine whether the negative effects outweigh the positive, Uta Koenig von Borstel, PhD, BSc, a professor at the University of Gottingen’s Department of Animal Breeding and Genetics, in Germany, carried out a review of the existing scientific literature on the topic. Co-author Paul McGreevy, BVSc, PhD, MRCVS, MACVS (Animal Welfare), Cert CABC, animal behavior and welfare science professor at the University of Sydney, presented the results on her behalf at the 11th International Society of Equitation Science (ISES) Conference, held Aug. 6-9 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The team looked at 55 scientific articles dealing with the effects of head and neck position (HNP) on various types of horses’ welfare and/or performance. Of those studies, 88% indicated that a hyperflexed HNP negatively impacts welfare via airway obstruction, pathological changes in the neck structure, impaired forward vision, stress, and pain. Only one study (1.8%) suggested a positive effect on welfare: reduced stress as measured by heart rate variability after training. Koenig von Borstel cautioned, however, that this particular study had several confounding factors that could make its results less reliable.

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  • Maggie Frazier

    Reading that the one of the “benefits” of this
    could be “higher dressage scores” and positive performance????? That just tells me that any judge that rewards this kind of riding should be removed! This is the kind of reasoning that allows the “big lick” to continue to be used in Tennessee Walker shows & to be rewarded. Like the peanut rolling headset of so-called pleasure classes in Western shows. All in all, abusing animals for a trophy or ribbon!

    November 8, 2015
  • Daryl

    This head held like this is not natural, has to be not what a horse really wants to do , I had a App that held his head like this, I let him relax he was so much better and easier in his gates, part walker, never show before I got him, but they held him back he was a fast walker. We got along just fine and had 30 years to have fun and ride every day for many years, he loved to go out.

    November 8, 2015
  • Louie C

    This position has the Horse “behind the bit” and is not true flexion. The bit hurts his sensitive mouth, he is avoiding it and in some cases, it can even lead to rearing. The bit should not be an instrument of torture.
    Good Horsemanship takes a great deal of skill and a VERY light hand on the reins.

    November 9, 2015