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Open Access Methodology article

Objective classification of different head and neck positions and their influence on the radiographic pharyngeal diameter in sport horses

Li-mei Go1*, Ann Kristin Barton12 and Bernhard Ohnesorge1

Author Affiliations

1 Clinic for Horses, University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, Foundation, Bünteweg 9, Hannover D-30559, Germany

2 Equine Clinic, Department of Veterinary Medicine of Freie Universität Berlin, Oertzenweg 19 b, Berlin D-14163, Germany

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BMC Veterinary Research 2014, 10:118  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-10-118

Published: 23 May 2014



Various head and neck positions in sport horses are significant as they can interfere with upper airway flow mechanics during exercise. Until now, research has focused on subjectively described head and neck positions. The objective of this study was to develop an objective, reproducible method for quantifying head and neck positions accurately.


Determining the angle between the ridge of the nose and the horizontal plane (ground angle) together with the angle between the ridge of nose and the line connecting the neck and the withers (withers angle) has provided values that allow precise identification of three preselected head and neck positions for performing sport horses. The pharyngeal diameter, determined on lateral radiographs of 35 horses, differed significantly between the established flexed position and the remaining two head and neck positions (extended and neutral). There was a significant correlation between the pharyngeal diameter and the ground angle (Spearman’s rank correlation coefficient −0.769, p < 0.01) as well as between the pharyngeal diameter and the withers angle (Spearman’s rank correlation coefficient 0.774, p < 0.01).


The combination of the ground angle and the withers angle is a suitable tool for evaluating and distinguishing frequently used head and neck positions in sport horses. The ground angle and the withers angle show significant correlation with the measured pharyngeal diameter in resting horses. Hence, these angles provide an appropriate method for assessing the degree of head and neck flexion. Further research is required to examine the influence of increasing head and neck flexion and the related pharyngeal diameter on upper airway function in exercising horses.

Horse; Equine pharynx; Head and neck position; Pharyngeal diameter; Upper respiratory tract