Help with head tossing in dressage training - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 9 Old 08-23-2011, 12:37 AM Thread Starter
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Help with head tossing in dressage training

My mare is 5 year old and we have been working with in dressage for about five to six weeks now. We are a work in progress. This first video is my trainer riding her. This is her second time being ridden by her - today and last week. As you can see, when asked to get on the bit, my mare has a tendency to want to throw her head around.

My trainer then told me that I need to be pushing her more in my riding and this is why she is tossing her head when asked to get on the bit. I ride her four to five times a week for about 45 minutes or so. I want to help us get better. So my question is - am I being too easy on her? I thought it would be better for her to learn how to engage her hind end and massaging the bit. We also work over poles. She was previously trying to be Western Pleasure trained and the slower the trot, the better and contact on the rein meant slow down. She also just had a foal in April so I didn't feel comfortable pushing her hard yet.

I'm showing the two videos so you can see the head tossing and hopefully tell me what might help us. BTW, I can ride her like my trainer in the first video and did about three weeks ago. But after about five minutes of crazy head tossing I went back to the way I ride in my video. If I'm being too easy on her, then I will work her harder to move her forward.

My trainer

My riding


Last edited by BaileyJo; 08-23-2011 at 12:42 AM. Reason: moving to different section
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post #2 of 9 Old 08-23-2011, 12:49 AM
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Get a new trainer. Seriously, don't let her back on your horse EVER. You should NEVER jerk the horse around as punishment, and she is taking her frustration out on the horse's mouth.

Ignore your horse's headset and start riding her from back to front. Leave her head be - have consistent, forgiving contact and let your horse get her balance and find herself. Make her work from her hind end - encourage forwardness and acceptance of the bit by having her come forward from your leg. I see a horse that is being punished with the bit, and that horse is never going to accept the bit.

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post #3 of 9 Old 08-23-2011, 01:02 AM
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That is some pretty crazy head tossing. Usually when people say head tossing is bad, it isn't so bad, but your mare's is bad. There has got to be a reason for this. If she does it more with your trainer riding ( AND let me take a moment to ask you you have permission to air the video of your trainer riding, because you are in a critique section and all photo of persons not yourself must have persmission to be here and be critiqued). It seems to have something to do with the fact that the trainer is trying to get her to take more contact. since she won't accept it, and the trainer might also be asking her to move forward at the same time, she ends up looking compressed and holllowing out, with her hind end trailing out behind her. I noticed a couple of times the trainer appeared to kind of jerk on the reins and thought that this is not going to be helpful.

When you ride, the horse isn't on the bit, (but isn't on the bit with trainer , either). but since you are not also asking for more push from behind, the horse feels more comfortable. I thought the movement was not so bad for a horse just starting in dressage.

In my opinion, the number one thing in ALL horsemanship and especially in dressage is FORWARD. Do what needs to be done to get forward motion. I thought you had some forward going there . Eventually you want forward but also you want some contact with the bit and teaching the horse to work forward into the bit, wherein over time you will help him to move more of the forward energy into a collected and '"upward" energy. But first is Forward. Then is reaching for the bit.

I would take some time, if you have not already (sorry if I missed that) and be most certain that there is NO physical reason for the horse to fear the bit. You might try a different mouthpiece, too. Such as, if you use a single jointed snaffle, consider a double jointed like a French link? Be sure there is no dental issue and that the bit is not too fat for her mouth and sidepieces are not pinching due to bit being too narrow.

Once these are ruled out, I would work ONLY at walk for a bit and work on haveing the horse tolerate some contact with encouragement to stretch forward and downward, and give a big realease (since she loves NO contact) when she does this and let her walk with her neck down and free. Then , take up contact and follow her mouth carefully (you need to have a good following hand and a loose elbow) and see if she'll keep her head down for a bit with contact. Work on this longitudinal stretching ( forwward and down, follow it up, ask for forwared and down and on and on). Once she gets more comfortable, keep contact more and aask for a brisker walk.

dont even do any trot until she will let you follow her mouth with the bit and not throw her head around. Don't hold you hands too low trying to bring her head down. If she brings her head up, follow her up keeping straight line from elbow to bit, even if it means your hands go up. When she lowers her head, give a release! But don't try to "pull" her down by keeping your hands overly low.
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post #4 of 9 Old 08-23-2011, 06:52 AM
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That is one incredibly uncomfortable horse - have her teeth been checked recently, has been back been checked and does her bit fit her perfectly? To me, she is showing every sign that she is feeling mighty uncomfortable. I don't think this is a 'bugger off rider, I'm going to be naughty'... there is discomfort written all over her.

As tiny said, I'd be asking your trainer if you can post a video of her riding on a forum.
I did cringe and feel quite sorry for your mare in some sections of that video - she is getting very mixed signals. Again as tiny said, forward is the key. Any horse that has an issue with head tossing and is in perfect health (no discomfort issues) I will ride forward forward and more forward, with dead quiet hands. You MUST eliminate movement in the bit on a horse like this, at trot, I would even go so far as to tuck your fingers under the saddle cloth or a monkey strap to keep your hands quiet and just focus on riding forward, allowing her to find the contact on her own.
Jerking the rein is going to hugely escalate the problem as the poor mare is going to toss her head as a pain reaction to being hit in the mouth. If continued, she will become very backed off in the contact and will either set her jaw against it to brace against your hand, or suck right back behind it to try and evade the painful jerks across the bars of her mouth.

Please, PLEASE get her teeth checked, check that her bit isn't pinching and that her back and saddle are fine. And once you have ruled these out, bail your trained up and let her know that she's going to have to quit that terrible jerking of the reins. One of my biggest rules in riding and training, is no matter how frustrated you get, never EVER punish a horse in the mouth or the back, as the damage in training is incredibly difficult to reverse.

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post #5 of 9 Old 08-23-2011, 08:18 AM
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I looked at these and your horse is showing resistance by head tossing. She is doing it less with you because you are giving with your hands and allowing her to find the bit. You might want to try riding her in a side pull.. but learn how to ride in one before you do this (you do not use steady pressure).

She needs to learn to balance and that is a hard thing for a horse to do. When she resists, you follow by softening and she does not toss her head as much. But.. what she really needs to do is travel in a longer frame and learn to reach down for the bit.

I would get out the Caveletti and trot her over that (with a LOOSE rein) so she can start to build balance. Next I would get her out on HILLS.. trotting at a steady space UP hill to build her abdominal muscles so she CAN balance. Gradually take up more contact as time goes on.

This is a very green horse when it comes to learning how to use her body. Serpentines, circles, transitions first IN a gait (trot and walk) and then BETWEEN gaits will help her. You will know you are asking for too much when you take up contact and she tosses her head (resists) instead of giving to the bit and bending.

If you are not capable of this, get a new trainer who can be soft with your horse and take their time building her foundation.

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post #6 of 9 Old 08-23-2011, 09:07 AM
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I agree with the other posters about the horse looking uncomfortable, and finding a new trainer. I also notice that in both videos (especially the first), it looks like the rider is pitched way forward in the upper body causing the horse to be off balance and resistant. My first impression was the horse is throwing her head to say, "hey, get off my front and sit back in that saddle". The horse is definitely off balance and very uncomfortable. The second video with you riding her is not so bad. Your position is a little better and you are softer on her mouth. Like others have said, work from back to front and let the horse find her balance and seek out the bit. Before doing all this, get the horses mouth / teeth checked and check your bit to ensure it is not causing any additional problems.
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post #7 of 9 Old 08-23-2011, 09:55 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks everyone for the feedback. I decided I better remove the first video since I didn't have permission. And I don't want to upset her by asking to put her riding out on the forum.

Again, thanks for the great feedback. We will go back to the walking and learning to balance. Probably good for me too to learn the basics of sitting correctly in the seat and body position in order to "be all I can be" for her. Also I will be checking into her teeth. She's had them done by previous owner but seems it's been awhile. I had thought about that but since she didn't have such a problem with her head when I was riding her I ruled it out. But it makes sense that I don't have the contact on the reins that she does. I will also check into a new bit. Could be the one I have is too wide. Seems wider than a first grader's pencil (huge).

Dressage is definitely not for the faint of heart! It's truly a baby step by baby step process.
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post #8 of 9 Old 08-23-2011, 10:01 AM
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I can not see either video so you made them both private.
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post #9 of 9 Old 08-23-2011, 10:04 AM
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Originally Posted by Alwaysbehind View Post
I can not see either video so you made them both private.
Same thing I got.

Hard to respond when we can't see the videos.
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