Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Hyperflexion according to HC

Hilary Clayton is a scientist, and not that susceptible to the sturm und drang of polarizing topics like the R word.  By that I mean r-llk-r, or whatever they are calling it now. I am also weary of the drama. That said, HC made some interesting comments while discussing flexion at the poll and through the neck...

She gave visual examples of flexion at the poll and flexion lower on the neck (C2-C3 vertebrae), and she talked a bit about Baucher and his training methods (he liked to see the flexion at the pol, and the poll up).

Naturally this sparked some discussion of overflexion. HC  told us there is no direct evidence that hyperflexion damages the horse physically. She answered a few questions in a neutral, analytical way. Then she made these comments...

 "The more I learn, the more important I think  it is to have flexion at the poll, not the C2-C3 vertebrae."

"It is ugly--to me--it is ugly and incorrect."

"We are training movement into the middle neck vertebrae joints that I don't think are natural movement."

Her understated manner just made the viewpoint more poignant. It was the most reasoned and thoughtful analysis of the issue I have heard on the subject (admittedly I avoid the subject as much as I can). Kudos to the audience and to the lecturer.


  1. From
    Emmanuelle van Erck-Westergren, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ECEIM, of Equine Sports Medicine Practice in Belgium, presented a study on upper airway function using videoendoscopy on ridden horses. “Increased head flexion or rider intervention exaggerated upper airway instability,” reported Van Erck-Westergren. In some specific cases, this established a link between airway inflammation and increased airway noise from vocal cord collapse. As the rider tightened the reins or the circles, there was an increased incidence of dorsal displacement of soft palate (DDSP) and poor performance.
    In summary, she concluded that head flexion, rider intervention, and airway inflammation are risk factors for UAO

  2. I think you hinted at an upcoming blog about how head position affects the rest of the body. I look forward to that one!

    I feel that head position is a reflection of what the body is doing. Broken at the wrong vertebrae typically indicates ugliness going on with the rest of the body. So many people think the fix is a gadget on the head, but really I want to see more fixes that mean asking the horse to move its body more correctly out there... so often, at least among the struggling novices (myself included) it's all about the head... but really, the head is just a great indicator of what else is happening!
    When I got my horse he tucked to evade contact, and broke at the 3rd vertebrae. It made him feel super soft, but at the same time we knew it wasn't correct. I ended up riding without contact for a while just so he'd get the feel of stretching his neck. This also meant he learned to be able to move his back, which then allowed him to learn about pushing from behind. They were all steps where the neck itself was definitely a symptom. I'm proud of the pictures we have now and the much greater power he has as he has properly developed his body, but it took backing up and starting over as if he didn't already have a show history or anything when I got him.
    I love these two photos for a comparison because in the one from 2010, he also shows the sin so many "old school" folks complain about - lack of parallel cannon and forearm. Too much flexion from the wrong spot:
    Unfortunately, his mane keeps you from really telling that he's not flexing in the wrong spot, but his nose in front of the vertical helps, and his cannon and forearm are nearly parallel - with more expression in the trot than the first. (My trainer on him, not me):

    Just so you can see the difference in his neck - we are falling on the forehand, and he is about to go significantly behind the vertical in the next stride, but the sun gleam shows just how his neck muscles are shaped and that he's not bending in the wrong place even with mane affects distracting you. His rider (me) needs massive work and improvement, but that's the whole point of lessons!

  3. Seems like good info. From what I understand, hyperflexion is more damaging mentally than physically...

    I don't think it's a bad thing to give one's opinion on the debate. Informed people talking reasonably are what help move the sport forward. Avoiding the topic entirely is counterproductive, even if the drama gets tiring. It touches a nerve with people because it addresses a central tension in our sport--how can we know what is fair training and what is not? I think these are questions we should continue asking ourselves as riders and trainers, regardless of the drama it may stir up.

  4. I'm guessing it is a good business decision on her part not to cover that topic. Rather like talking politics, she is bound to tick off 50% of her audience.

  5. It is important to have an anlytical cold scientific point of view, then HC's point of view.
    However anywhere I look at competetive dressage they all warm-up "deep", it is not Rllkr, but Oh My It is deep O_o

    So where are we? People who do not compete are against it. However go to any FEI dressage show, and everybody warms-up deep ... I am seriously confused.... Let's not speak about reining!!!!

    5 years ago I was all "baucher" and polls up, however as time goes, I am not so sure anymore.

    I am truly confused and baffled....

  6. No physical damage? Hmm. I used to assist a vet and can honestly say dressage horses were the ones with the cervical arthritis at early ages. Usually, it was the expensive ones too ... taken to higher levels. Not bashing dressage ... just food for thought.

    BTW, cervical arthritis causes stumbling ... and is dangerous to horse and rider. Be careful what you ask of your horse. I think Rollkur is bad for the horse's breathing structure and neck. JMHO.

  7. Admittedly, I did not comment on the previous HC post, because I was not sure if I should interpret what she said about balance and head/neck position and the implications.

    Even now, I can see two lines of thinking in the information provided. I wonder if she feels obligated to say one thing ("the facts"), but this conflicts with her personal opinion.


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