Vertical limits: British coaches speak out over equine neck position

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A statement from coaches said there were "a variety of reasons why, at any moment in time, a horse may appear behind the vertical".
A statement from coaches said there were “a variety of reasons why, at any moment in time, a horse may appear behind the vertical”. © Mike Bain

The repeated restriction of horses with their heads behind the vertical has been condemned in strong terms by an association representing coaches with an advanced qualification from the British Horse Society.

However, the statement from the Association of Fellows of the British Horse Society also sounded a note of caution, saying there was much discussion on the head carriage of horses in competition, with many people being critical of all horses who appeared “behind the vertical”.

“It is vital that all other interested parties, prior to condemning and criticising, have a clear understanding of the classical training of horses, and therefore do not react to evidence of superficial symptoms seen in a moment of time.”

Hyperflexion/Rollkur is generally defined as flexion of the horse’s neck achieved through aggressive force, which is unacceptable. The technique known as Long, Deep and Round, which achieves flexion without undue force, is considered acceptable.

The association said its members would encourage all governing bodies to include Long, Deep and Round and its implications in all future seminars.

The statement, from honorary chairperson Sabrina Jones and honorary treasurer Tim Downes, said there were a variety of reasons why, at any moment in time, a horse may appear behind the vertical.

Some are natural, others are man-made, and some a combination of both. Common natural reasons included conformation, strength, lack of energy, state of balance, adrenaline and instinctive tension.

Common man-made reasons included restrictive riding, incorrect bitting, a poor training philosophy, and lack of control.

“These often combine. For example, a well-trained and well-ridden horse in a new environment may temporarily feel insecure, produce adrenaline and become a potential danger causing the rider to become restrictive to maintain control and stay safe.”

The pair continued: “Training horses is about improving, developing and sometimes changing the horse’s natural balance. Throughout this process different horses of varying conformation types and temperaments will alter the degree to which they instinctively use their heads and necks to find their balance, causing a variation in the angle of head carriage.

“Some horses at times are more comfortable with the nose slightly behind the vertical.

“The trained horse, for maximum marks, must, amongst many other facets, maintain an outline that, based on the suppleness of the back and active engagement of the hind quarters, remains in front of the vertical.

“This element of performance, like many other facets of the desired end result, can at times be less than excellent, hence contributing to marks of less than 10.

“If it were possible for all the required elements of performance to be trained and ridden to a point of excellence, whereby all horses could gain a ’10’ for all movements, there would be no point in competing.

“It is the variation in rider skills and the degree of the horse’s confidence and training that produces the placings in a competition.”

However, they condemned repeated use of an over-bent position.

“Horses who are repeatedly restricted by being worked clearly behind the vertical, either ridden or on the lunge, often with a very shortened and low position of the neck and with little relationship to the way the horse works as a whole, by people ignorant of the physical and mental damage caused, are being trained in an unacceptable manner that should be condemned by all equine sport’s national governing bodies.

“These horses are frequently unhappy and tense, working with an unnatural way of going that produces physical stress and damage resulting in a shortened useful life.”

The Fellowship of the British Horse Society is the highest qualification offered by the body. It is rated as one of the highest coaching accreditations in the world. The qualification is open to society members aged over 25 and who hold the BHSI certificate.

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2 thoughts on “Vertical limits: British coaches speak out over equine neck position

  • December 20, 2017 at 10:49 am
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    Finally a much needed sensible and responsible response to the rubbish that is often printed based on a single shot in time. Thank you.

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  • January 15, 2018 at 5:47 am
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    How true. It seems that in our society, our politics and most certainly modern horsemanship it’s the extreme ends of the Bell that are dictating and controlling our thoughts on proper horsemanship in riding and communicating with the horses in our lives. How is it that so many either have to believe that RolKur or other barbaric ( odd term since it was during the enlightenment in the heart of the dark ages that proper fully defined riding and horsemanship was developed???), uncaring riding and training methods exist, The classical art of horse training as practiced at only a few institutions around the world is evidence of our ignorant continued belief that speed/quickness is the goal rather then the proper long term ( many many years more for the rider then even the horses), that forcing and putting into painful positions another species for our ego and benefit is the goal. That our equestrian associations continue to accept these things ( sure they have regulations that forbid these issues, but really, how often do they enforce those regulations and when they its rare if at all they enforce it in a way that concerns the horses welfare and discipline and ostracizing of the rider and trainer. We all need to stop turning our heads to our personal excuses and the belief that because we have been indoctrinated that horses are property and therefore out of our reach of help that these things just happen. Competitions need to start disqualifying these people, banning them for sizable time frames for performing or training these things and requiring them to under go at their own expense qualifications to be able to compete again AND most importantly the observers to walk away from the performance while it happens. Change will happen in the spectator seats first and foremost, before the associations will take notice (reduced attendance and bad publicity by spectators) and therefore the trainers and riders that insist on the short cuts and harmful methods.

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