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Head position in dressage horses

M. J. J. O. Lashley, S. Nauwelaerts, J. C. M. Vernooij and others

IN dressage, points are awarded by a panel of judges. The position of the horse's head and neck in relation to the rest of its body is taken into account when scoring, with the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) judging handbook stating ‘the head should remain slightly in front of the vertical’. It has been suggested that keeping the head behind the vertical can play a role in complex locomotor disturbances in horses, although this remains controversial. This study aimed to compare the head angulation of dressage horses in top-level competitions in 1992 and 2008, to assess whether angulation has changed over this period and whether there had been a change in judges' scoring.

Footage of the top scoring 15 dressage horses at the 1992 Olympic Games and the top 15 at the 2008 dressage World Cup Final was analysed frame-by-frame and head angles were assessed. In two of four gaits (collected canter and collected trot) at the 1992 Olympics, and for all four gaits in the 2008 World Cup, the head was found to be behind the vertical more than half the time. In the 1992 competition, …

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