How to teach an English head set?

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How to teach an English head set?

This is a discussion on How to teach an English head set? within the English Riding forums, part of the Riding Horses category
  • How to achieve proper horse headset
  • What can i use to make my horse have a good head set

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    10-23-2010, 10:43 PM
Question How to teach an English head set?

Hello again!
How do I teach my horse to have a good english head set?
I have just begin to teach this to my horse. My goal is for her to have a natural, correct english head set. I gently see-sawed the reins until she tucked her head and I have been practicing that with her.
WHere do I go from there? I am wondering if it should be more complex than just what I am doing.
My riding instructor told me to just keep asking her to arch her neck until she learns to do it all the time. Is that right? Would you do it differently?

Also, I know she will need to build some muscle before I can expect her to hold the head set for very long; how do I help her to get in shape for it?

I definitely don't want teach her in a wrong way, so I thought I should ask here before I go any further. All of the english horses I ride already have a good head set so I don't know how to teach it.

Please be as detailed as you want! I need some thorough, experienced advise! Helpful links would also be appreciated.
Thanks for the help :)
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    10-23-2010, 11:18 PM
You can't 'teach' headset. It comes from correct riding. See-sawing the reins forcing her into a false headset, which not only is it not correct, but it is detrimental to her health.

Ignore her head. Have soft, giving hands. Ignore her head at all times and let her carry it where she wants. Ignore her head. Ignore it. I can't say this enough. Her head doesn't matter - ignore it.

Ride her from the back. Get her working forward, get her to use her hindquarters. Teach her to move off your leg. Let her work forward and let her start using her spine properly. Let her move forward freely, into hands that let the motion go forward without bothering her head.

Only when you have her moving properly will a head set matter, and then, as if by magic, she will do it herself. You don't need to do it for her.
    10-24-2010, 06:06 PM
Chiilaa, that is very interesting. I was unaware that that was how it worked!

I am very careful to ride my horse with my legs, in fact I don't really use the reins very much. When I do use them it's just a soft touch and my horse responds quickly. That's why I was skeptical about my instructor's technique. I'm sooo glad I asked; now I know!

My horse seems comfortable the way we ride. It's always on a loose rein. Her head set is naturally western though (level top line), because she has quarter horse heritage. Does this mean that she wont ever have an english head set?

Thank you very much for the help!
    10-24-2010, 06:15 PM
A naturall headset comes from your seat and legs. I think an ocasional squeez on the outside rein to remid your horse to keep her head down is okay, bt the see-sawing isn't
    10-24-2010, 06:43 PM
The phrase "see saw" may be sounding harsher than I had intended. What I was doing was very lightly and gently moving one rein, then the other a few times. At my barn see-saw means anything with a back and forth motion in the reins so I called it that without thinking.
I'm sorry for the confusion. For what it's worth, I stopped doing that yesterday. We haven't been doing it for very long so I think my horse will just forget about it.
    10-24-2010, 07:39 PM
WalnutPixie, go and have a read through the threads in the dressage subforum.
Moving the bit left and right across the mouth to encourage the horse to give and drop it's head will only teach the horse to suck back from the bit, duck behind the vertical, shorten it's neck and as a result travel with a tense, hollow back. You will not build topline and your horse will not accept a contact. If the horse ducks back behind the bit so there is a loop in the reins and her neck is stiff, you know you've done the wrong thing.

Think of riding back to front. Just because she has QH lines does not mean she can carry herself in an english frame, but to do this you MUST work her from the hindquarters first. Multiple transitions - CORRECT transitions using your core muscles for the downwards and not allowing her to slop around on the forehand - changes of rein and transitions within paces will all help you with this.
    10-24-2010, 09:05 PM
Kayty I will do exactly that. I can see I have a lot of research to do, but I'm glad I can solve these problems now before I taught my horse something bad.

I had no idea that these things were so counter productive! I don't think I am going to take lessons from my riding instructor anymore.
    10-25-2010, 12:53 AM
I'm very glad WalnutPixie, that you are one of the few people around that will listen to the advice given here when it is against what they have been taught. But I promise you, any dressage book you read, any 'true' dressage rider or coach that you speak to, will give you the same advice - ride back to front and you'll get not only a 'pretty head set and arched neck', but a horse with an elegant, strong top line and active hindquarters, thus you're horse will move 100% better, you'll notice more action of the knees and hocks and it will be easier to sit trot once your horse is using it's back.

I would STRONGLY suggest finding a coach who has a good competition record in pure dressage, or at least, look at their horses and if you like how they are muscled (strong topline, no undermuscle of the neck etc.) and you like how they ride, then try them out. Any coach who tells you to jiggle your reins around under the horse drops it's head and doesn't mention activating the hind quarters, is not going to get you anywhere far.
    10-25-2010, 02:08 AM
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I have read a ton of dressage books and read a ton of threads about riding back to front, and not creating a headset via the reins, and just ride the horse forward and headset will come naturally, and more.
All true EXCEPT to deny that that the reins have anything to do with dressage it just not true. You may be riding the horse from back to front, but it there is nothing there, in front, then you are riding the horse from back to out the open door!
I understand that you want to dissuade people from thinking that a mear see-sawing of the reins to make the horse give at the jaw will creat a "dressage frame", but to tell them that all they have to do is ride forward and head set will happen is not true. Chances are that is what they are already doing; riding with close to no contact and the horse's energy is just falling forward and in no way connected or recycled by the rider.
A really well trainde rider can do a lot of that through their seat, but I bet they didn't start that way; they started by learning how to take up the reins and connect to the horse and begin the very earliest stages of collection. Even from the beginnig of the the training scale, rythm and relaxation, the horse will be ridden with some contact on the rein. The rider may "vibrate" the inside rein to create a bend and may "close" the outside rein to show the horse where the bit creates a "border" for the forward energy (from behind to the front)

I just think it is inaccurate to speak as if the reins and their use have no place in dressage. You will not have a back to front if you don't creat a "front".
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    10-25-2010, 02:26 AM
Tinylily, please tell me where I said reins have no place and are not needed? I don't remember typing or reading that?

I was not going to give her a 100 page lecture on how to engage her horse and get him through, when there are plenty of threads on here to read through that will give her a good idea.

You cannot deny that the hind end is the 'engine room' of the horse, if you don't have the hind end working, the back won't work, the forehand will lead and the neck will be braced. In a nutshell, you havee to activate/create energy in the hindquarters, asking them to step through and under your centre of balance in order to engage the horse's back. The energy you create has to be contained to avoid the horse running onto it's forehand, therefore yes the reins must be utilised, particularly when beginning this work with a horse/rider, to contain the created energy and 'complete' the circuit, allowing the back to free up and the hind legs to swing through. However, the reins are NOT see-sawed, pulled etc. They merely act as a support. A contact is maintained, there should not be a loop in the rein or the contact with the hind legs is broken, however the rein should never be pulled back toward you body. The contact is there to encourage the horse to swing the hind legs and give the back, the horse must be invited to take the contact by riding the back end to meet the contact, rather than riding the contact to the hind end.
In saying this, the seat is more important than the rein in the process of containing built up energy, the core muscles of the rider 'hold' the horse 'together' and 'up', before the reins come into play to give the final, 'finishing touches' to the picture.

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