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Longitudinal and Lateral: Flexion vs. Bend

December 18, 2017

Longitudinal and Lateral: Flexion vs. Bend

Do you know the differences between longitudinal and lateral flexion and bend?

Many people use flexion and bend interchangeably when it comes to dressage horses, but there is a distinction: Flexion refers only to the change in position of the joint found just behind the poll, while bend refers to a change in position or curve through the horse’s body, nose to tail.

Longitudinal Flexion

Longitudinal flexion and bend both refer to changes in the horse’s form in terms of collection. Longitudinal flexion describes flexion at the poll, where the horse’s face is moved closer to, or directly on, the vertical (the point at which the flat part of a horse’s face, forehead to nose, is perpendicular to the ground).


"Bend refers to the entire body, including the poll; flexion refers only to the poll."

Longitudinal Bend

To understand longitudinal bend, imagine holding either end of a dressage whip in each hand. Now gently push your hands together until the whip develops an upward bend. The firmer handle end of the whip represents the hindquarters, while the flexible tip acts as the horse’s neck. Similarly, longitudinal bend is seen in a horse when it engages its hindquarters, raises its back and flexes at the poll.

It is important to point out that longitudinal and lateral bend require flexion, since bend refers to the entire body, including the poll; on the other hand, longitudinal and lateral flexion do not require bend, since flexion refers only to the poll and not the entire body.

Lateral Flexion

On to Lateral Flexion and Bend! Lateral Flexion and Bend both refer to the changes in a horse’s form in terms of the curve through their poll or full body.

Lateral flexion describes the flexion of a horse’s line of sight just slightly to one side or another. This lateral flexion keeps the horse’s body behind the poll straight while the head gently flexes to either side at the poll.

Lateral bend

To explain Lateral Bend, we will go back to our earlier example with dressage whip. For Lateral Bend, rather than having the bend in the dressage whip raise upwards the bend would point to either the right or the left side. This is a bend that is often felt during a circle where the horse has a slight bend from ears to tail forming around the line of the circle.

Correctly using and understanding lateral and longitudinal flexion and bend will not only help balance the horse and rider through circles, corners and collected movements — it will also build the foundation for upper level movements.

Hopefully this short article has helped to clear up misconceptions as to what flexion and bend refer to, as well as how longitudinal and lateral flexion and bend come into play. The common saying “flex at the poll” might sound ineffective now considering it’s redundancy since flexion itself describes a change in the position of the poll and considering the saying could either be referring to a longitudinal or lateral flexion.

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