The effect of head and neck position on the thoracolumbar kinematics in the unridden horse


Department of Equine Sciences, Utrecht University, Yalelaan 12, 3584 CM Utrecht, The Netherlands


Reasons for performing study: In many equestrian activities a specific position of head and/or neck is required that is dissimilar to the natural position. There is controversy about the effects of these positions on locomotion pattern, but few quantitative data are available.

Objectives: To quantify the effects of 5 different head and neck positions on thoracolumbar kinematics of the horse.

Methods: Kinematics of 7 high level dressage horses were measured walking and trotting on an instrumented treadmill with the head and neck in the following positions: HNP2=neck raised, bridge of the nose in front of the vertical; HNP3=as HNP2 with bridge of the nose behind the vertical; HNP4=head and neck lowered, nose behind the vertical; HNP5=head and neck in extreme high position; HNP6 = head and neck forward and downward. HNP1 was a speed-matched control (head and neck unrestrained).

Results: The head and neck positions affected only the flexion-extension motion. The positions in which the neck was extended (HNP2, 3, 5) increased extension in the anterior thoracic region, but increased flexion in the posterior thoracic and lumbar region. For HNP4 the pattern was the opposite. Positions 2, 3 and 5 reduced the flexion-extension range of motion (ROM) while HNP4 increased it. HNP5 was the only position that negatively affected intravertebral pattern symmetry and reduced hindlimb protraction. The stride length was significantly reduced at walk in positions 2, 3, 4 and 5.

Conclusions: There is a significant influence of head/neck position on back kinematics. Elevated head and neck induce extension in the thoracic region and flexion in the lumbar region; besides reducing the sagittal range of motion. Lowered head and neck produces the opposite. A very high position of the head and neck seems to disturb normal kinematics.

Potential relevance: This study provides quantitative data on the effect of head/neck positions on thoracolumbar motion and may help in discussions on the ethical acceptability of some training methods.