November 18, 2011 09:15
I am addressing this question perhaps more as a dressage trainer and teacher than as a veterinarian, so as such this is not a definitive answer, just my opinion of this issue.
Hyperflexion is a relatively recent and controversial topic in the world of competitive dressage horse training. Proponents of extreme hyperflexion are few but unfortunately several are famous and successful on the world championship/Olympic stage. They claim that flexion of the horse's jaw/head far far past the vertical for extended periods of work gives more lift to the back and more elasticity to the movement when ridden up in a more normal position during a test. There are a large majority of trainers who occasionally during schooling use an overbent longitudinal position [behind vertical, lower neck] and also lateral positions outside of the classic desired "frame". However these positions are used for seconds only to supple or unlock a resistant jaw or to prevent an evasion in another part of the body. As soon as possible the horse is returned to a normal vertical frame so that the classic goals of forward through the back and soft in jaw can be achieved with the poll, not the third vertebra or mid neck the highest point.
There are extremists on both sides [which can occupy one for hours on youtube] with some riders clearly causing physical and mental distress to the horse. In some instances permanent physical damage to vertebrae and supporting structures can occur and/or long term or permanent psychological damage including a resigned helpless and joyless horse. On the opposite side of the spectrum, other extremists vehemently state that all horses ridden in a bit are in pain at all times and are being abused.
Most reasonable horsemen and trainers love and respect horses and appreciate dressage as an art as well as a sport. They certainly fall between these extremes. I believe that realistic and fair -minded trainers are aware that at times getting a horse to comply may involve some battles of wills and bodies but we all hope this is as brief a period as possible.
It is prudent to remember that classical dressage changed very little over the past hundred + years as far as ideals and methods are concerned. Todays sport horses are bigger, more powerful, athletic and more extreme movers with each generation. It is tempting to rush these fantastic horses to the FEI levels because they apparently can, but producing a horse that keeps a sound body and mind with joy in his work for his lifetime takes as long as it ever did. When a 'new' technique surfaces, such as extreme hyperflexion, I hope that riders and trainers educate themselves, talk to people they trust and continue to use good judgement in training their horses as individuals.
Dr Lisa Wayman DVM contributor to "Ask a Vet"
-Corman Park Vet Svc
-trainer of 2 Grand Prix horses and mother of 2 young horsewomen