• horse;
  • head and neck position;
  • quantification;
  • anatomical model;
  • loading simulation


Reasons for performing study: Head and neck positions (HNP) in sport horses are under debate in the equine community, as they could interfere with equine welfare. HNPs have not been quantified objectively and no information is available on their head and neck loading.

Objectives: To quantify in vivo HNPs in sport horses and develop o a model to estimate loading on the cervical vertebrae in these positions.

Methods: Videos were taken of 7 Warmbloods at walk on a straight line in 5 positions, representing all HNPs during Warmblood training and competition. Markers were glued at 5 anatomical landmarks. Two-dimensional angles and distances were determined from video frames for the 5 HNPs and statistically compared (P<0.05). A new simulation model was developed to estimate nuchal ligament cervical loading at these HNPs.

Results: The mean angles were significantly different between the 5 HNPs for the line between C1 and T6 with the horizontal and for the line connecting the facial crest (CF) and C1 with the vertical, while the vertical distance from CF to the lateral styloid process of the radius (PS) was significantly different between all 5 positions (P<0.05). The estimated nuchal ligament loading appeared to be largest at the origin of C2 for all HNPs, except for the ‘hyperextended’ HNP5; the ‘hyperflexed’ HNP4 showed the largest loading values on the nuchal ligament origins at all locations.

Conclusions: HNPs can be accurately quantified in the sagittal plane from angles and distances based on standard anatomical landmarks and home-video captured images. Nuchal ligament loading showed the largest estimated values at its origin on C2 in hyperflexion (HNP4).

Potential relevance: Modelling opens further perspectives to eventually estimate loading for individual horses and thus ergonomically optimise their HNP, which may improve the welfare of the sport horse during training and competition.