Behind the vertical?

Dr Hilary Clayton is an internationally renowned veterinarian, author, researcher and clinician. Her work in the field of equestrian biomechanics has provided incredible insight into equine sports, and the relationship between the horse and rider. She has carried out research across an extensive range of areas including, though not limited to; bit fitting, saddle fitting biometrics, kinematics, kinetics and locomotion. Her work has helped to further knowledge and to improve welfare for horses across the globe.

Dr Hilary Clayton was involved in the research into the head and neck position of elite dressage horses in competition between 1992 and 2008. While we would assume that the general level of training and welfare has increased throughout that time, their report made for interesting reading.

In the FEI handbook it states that: “The head should remain in a steady position, as a rule slightly in front of the vertical, with a supple poll as the highest point of the neck, and no resistance should be offered to the Athlete.” The team evaluated video of the horses and categorised them as on or in front of the vertical, or behind the vertical. The collected canter and collected trot show that the amount of horses behind the vertical has decreased over those 14 years.

However the results for the passage and piaffe show a very different picture. In 1992, 48% of horses in the passage and 45%, in the piaffe, were behind the vertical. By 2008 these figures had risen to 71% of horses being behind the vertical in both the piaffe and passage.

Obviously there are all sorts of conclusions that one could draw from this, but it is worth bearing in mind, that we should always hold the welfare of our horses at the utmost of our minds. It is important that governing bodies regularly review and maintain their own standards to ensure a high level of welfare across the world

(Comparison of the head and neck position of elite dressage horses during top-level competitions in 1992 versus 2008 by Morgan J.J.O. Lashley, Sandra Nauwelaerts, J.C.M. Vernooij, W. Back, and Hilary M. Clayton. Published in The Veterinary Journal, 2014, volume 202, pages 462-465)


Dr Hilary Clayton is the author and producer of “Activate Your Horse’s Core” available from our shop.

One thought on “Behind the vertical?”

  1. There are many people who ask what the difference is between ‘classical’ riding and what might be seen in modern competition. Here is a perfect example. Classical is a word that is now used by almost everyone to mean whatever they choose, however it’s original meaning is “something of lasting worth or with a timeless quality”. Something that is timeless without doubt is the nature of the horse and this is what the FEI rules were created to protect. Modern science demonstrates and supports what the old masters learned from listening to their horses – that any position behind the vertical causes the horse’s weight to come more on the shoulders and makes real collection impossible. There is nothing whatsoever wrong with the rules from the horse’s point of view. The conclusion, then, must be obvious. Repeating something that is wrong again and again still doesn’t make it right!

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