Words About Hyperflexion

In the image shown above the horse is hyperflexed.  The image shown above is NOT the correct outline for lunging or riding.  Not only is the horse way behind the vertical, his neck is “broken,” meaning hyperflexed between the 2nd and 3rd vertebrae.  

Myth: In order to get the horse’s head in the right place for lunging, it is ok to double-loop the side reins around the girth to make them short enough so the horse’s head is low and almost to its chest.  

The Truth: “If you did this in a USDF Instructors Certification Exam you would not pass,” says Cindy Sydnor, USDF Instructors Certification Program Examiner. Cindy goes on to say, “If, when lungeing with properly attached side reins, the horse drops his entire neck a little, his face WILL come a little behind the vertical, and this is fine.  If the neck stays high, and the horse is behind the vertical because the side reins are too short, that is definitely bad.  And, if the neck is forced down through over shortened side reins AND the horse is more than a few degrees behind the vertical (as seen in so many horrible YouTube videos), that is also very incorrect and inhumane.”  She goes on to say, “Force should simply never be used.  To force the neck down with over-short side reins is definitely a horrible thing to do.  And depending on a horse’s natural sensitivity in the mouth and the bit being used, the animal often will yield to the pressure from the side reins, because the pain from the bit is simply unbearable.  But as you may have seen somewhere, often after yielding and going more than 10 degrees behind the vertical, a horse will panic and try to throw its head up (because the pressure on the bit doesn’t decrease enough and it still hurts).  Because the side reins don’t give the horse is trapped and often stops abruptly and either backs up rapidly and/or rears and even sometimes flips over backwards.”

FEI Statement on hyperflexion, 2008:  “The FEI condemns hyperflexion in any equestrian sport as an example of mental abuse.  The FEI does not support the practice.”

Myth: The only way to get a horse’s back up is to lunge/ride them round, low and deep, with their poll low and their head partway to their chest.

The Truth: Getting the horse’s back up is NOT the end goal. A loose, swinging, lifted back is only part of the equation. You have to have all the components: engaged hindquarters, thrust/impulsion, lifted, swinging and loose back, connection from the bit to the rider, and the rider accepting the connection and releasing the energy back into the hindquarters. Connection is correct (aside from moments here and there) only if the horse is on or slightly in front of the vertical. Any horse behind the vertical loses the connection at the bit and the circle of aids is broken. It is not correct riding and worse, can cause physical damage to the horse.

 From an article published in 2008 by Sylvia Loch’s The Classical Riding Club newsletter written by Michael J Stevens, England: “Working a horse deep and round is often achieved with side reins and running reins, and is thought to lift the horse’s back and stretch the spine by enabling the hind legs to come through properly.  In fact, when a horse is worked too deep in the neck, his back must arch down. This will indeed cause him to work his back legs harder to compensate, but there is too much movement in the stifle and the hock, and not enough in the body.  The hind end is not working in harmony with the front end because the bridge between them — the back — is not moving.  With the legs working so hard, they hit the ground harder.  This can cause concussion of the spine and hip.  incorrectly done . . . the horse ends up weak in the spine. You cannot always see the damage immediately, it happens over time.”

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