Science & Equine

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Written by Debby Gudden
Posted in Gait analyses

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Effect of head-neck positions on muscle activity in the neck

The knowledge of muscle activity in neck muscles is essential for making judgements on head-neck positions (HNPs) commonly used by riders. The question what the influence of frequently used HNPs is on the body and welfare of the horse can be answered using various methods. This study used electromyography (EMG) to measure muscle activity of three important neck muscles in three different head-neck positions in the horse.

The authors concluded that training with HNPs in front of the vertical leads to activation of muscles of the topline (m. splenius, m. trapezius). Training horses in a hyperflexed position leads to activation of the m. brachiocephalicus, a major muscle of the lower topline. In extreme cases this can lead to spasms of the m. brachiocephalicus, which can results in pain and is in conflict with animal welfare.

Expert opinion by Debby Gudden

Hyperflexion of the horse’s neck is currently used as a training method by a number of high-level competition dressage riders, and increasingly used by eventers and show-jumpers. The use of hyperflexion is controversial as it may affect the horse’s welfare by causing discomfort. When training your own horse it is important to change head-neck positions regularly, especially when training in a hyperflexed position to prevent acidification and spasms of the muscles. Make sure your horse can recover sufficiently from its training and by doubt always advise your instructor. Training in hyperflexion can lead to serious (muscle) damage and injuries which is in conflict with animal welfare.

> From: Kienapfel, J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr 99 (2014) 132-138. All rights reserved to Blackwell Verlag. Click here for the online summary.

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