Star-gazer: how to lower his head? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 15 Old 11-14-2011, 11:56 PM Thread Starter
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Star-gazer: how to lower his head?

I'm leasing a friend's horse, and he's a stargazer. He doesn't toss his head at all. Now and then, his head and nose just come up, and my line to his mouth becomes all wrong. He's not being dangerous, just annoying. I don't show him, so it's not an appearance issue either. It's just wrong and I want to fix it.
He's in an eggbutt snaffle (1 joint). We discussed trying a running martingale on him. I'm hesitant to do so, because my experience has been that a running martingale messes up the line to the mouth even more. I will not use a standing martingale at all for safety reasons.

Here's what I'd like to try.
-1- I'm thinking he might be raising his head to get away from the snaffle's nut-cracker effect, so I though I'd try an eggbutt french-link snaffle.
-2- Lots of roundpen work to work both lateral and vertical neck flexion to try to get him to loosen up and drop his head.

Am I on the right track? Any other suggestions?
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post #2 of 15 Old 11-15-2011, 12:20 AM
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I think your thinking is on the right track. One thing is to think about why he might be doing this? Could it be saddle fit or pain? If you think it is just the bit, then also consider not just type of bit, but bit fit and position in the mouth, and whether his teeth are all ok.

A french link might be good choice. Also, when he stargazes, don't get stuck inot trying to pull him back down. you want to use your hands to follow him up and maintain contact with his mouth but be ever so ready to give a rewarding release the instant he starts to bring his head down or flex at the poll.

AND, when he puts his head up, you may have good results encourageing him to put it down by driving him forward more than you are trying to bring him down via the bit. Usually a horse that is driven forward when he does this will actually lower his head a bit as he leaps forward.

So try that. drive more forward, open the front door and see if he'll lower his head on his own.
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post #3 of 15 Old 11-15-2011, 09:15 AM
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Another way to teach him is to let your hands drift up as high as his mouth. Don't pull, just go up like on a merry-go-round pole. He'll find out that high isn't a place that he can go to avoid. When his head dips, even a 1/2 inch let your hands drop too. This really doesn't take long and helps you and horse develop timing and feel.
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post #4 of 15 Old 11-15-2011, 11:56 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the ideas! I can easily try those things.
Taking him in the roundpen for the first time in a year today. I'm planning to lunge him without saddle, then with - to see if there's a difference. Then without bit, then with - again to see if there's a difference, then riding him with the tips you suggested.
I hadn't thought of saddle fit. This week was the first time he's been under my Passier saddle, which fits him impressively well. I was told he wasn't pulling his head up as much as usual with me. I assumed it was just that I have pretty soft hands on the bit. But yes, if his former saddle was pinching him, he could be tightening up and hollowing out his back to avoid the pain.

Lots of fun things to try today. And it's sunny to boot.
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post #5 of 15 Old 11-15-2011, 12:38 PM
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A couple of thing here:

First -- is this horse's conformation exacerbating the problem? Is he 'ewe necked'? Does he have a short, thick neck?

Second -- Is he worse when you 'take hold of him'?

Have you checked his teeth, saddle fit, etc?

A note on running martingales -- Don't condemn then without knowing how to properly adjust one.

If you put one at the length where it is in a straight line from the place where his mouth should be and where your proper hand placement should be, it is doing nothing at all. If in doubt, place it at the horse's throat when his head is in a 'normal' position. If a running martingale is lower than that straight line from the horse's mouth (when its head is in a good position) to the rider's elbows (not hands), then it has been adjusted too low. It should never pull down on the horse's mouth unless the horse's head is waaay too high. Then, they do not help so much with getting the horse's head down (this requires skill) as they help with control when a horse tries to bolt or spin around. The horse with his head in the clouds can be completely out of control and it can put a rider in a pretty helpless position. This is why race horses are galloped in running martingales. The jockeys could not hold them if they could get their heads too high and up into an out of a 'control' position. They never pull down on the race horse's mouth. A running martingale should not do anything when the horse's head is in a decent position.

As for bits, I would go to a three piece (French Link or Dog-bone) snaffle and I would probably put a nose-band (mouth closer) on him until you get him properly schooled. The schooling process will go much more quickly if you proactively remove one of the methods he will automatically use to show resistance to what you want him to do. Once the resistance is gone to your controlling his head position, the mouth closer can be removed with no problem. Gaping the mouth is just a symptom of the bigger problem, but it can make it a lot more difficult to fix the problem.

For technique -- You can get any horse's head down as low as you want it if you make him miserable enough when he carries it too high. Sounds harsh, but it is not. It is really quite simple and gets a 'happy' horse with good head carriage out of almost any resistant horse. It is the epitome of making the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard.
[A skilled rider can get about any horse to travel with his head knee-high in about 10 or 15 minutes. if that is where he wants it. I have done this very thing many times in clinics and demonstrations.]

You simply take more hold of a horse's mouth as his head get higher and shows more resistance. You take more hold while you 'push' a horse forward into the bit. If you take enough hold, he will get desperate and will try to 'hide' his head somewhere. Every horse will put their head down at some point to get away from your firm hold. The instant his head drops, you give him a release of all pressure on his mouth and sides. For a while, his head will go up and down and everywhere trying to figure out where you let him be 'comfortable'. If a rider is 100% consistent -- making him pay a high price for elevating his head and offering release and comfort for bringing his head to a acceptable place -- he will chose to carry his head where you want it. This is much preferred to forcing him to carry his head where you want it. He will chose that place because that is where you let him be comfortable. That is where you take the uncomfortable pressure off of the reins and 'reward' him with that relief.

You DO NOT need to 'praise' a horse. That is totally for your pleasure and not his. The only praise a horse needs is for you to take the pressure off. Other forms of praise come long after the deed causing it is forgotten -- long after a horse's immediate memory. A horse will literally do anything he can to get release of pressure -- defined as a firm contact with his mouth and/or his ribs. That is HIS preferred reward.
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post #6 of 15 Old 11-15-2011, 12:47 PM
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Originally Posted by Cherie View Post
You DO NOT need to 'praise' a horse. That is totally for your pleasure and not his.

I disagree. They do associate the pat and the tone of voice when a job is well done. I pat my horse after EVERY.SINGLE.RUN. Whether it was a good run or not. I see too many folks getting on their horse for not stopping a cow or knocking a pole. I will not be one of those.

A horse recognizes when the tone is gruff to indicate displeasure on the part of the human. I fully believe they understand tone and the "good job" pat.

Gee, I actually say thank you to my horses when they drop their head, pick up a hoof, move over, etc.
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post #7 of 15 Old 11-15-2011, 07:42 PM Thread Starter
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Just got out of the roundpen.
Saddle fit is beautiful.
From the ground, I had his poll rounded, with his nose touching both his shoulders with no problems or resistance. Really quite supple. Same for bringing his chin down towards his chest.
Watching him lunge, he's not collected at all. He's like an awkward teenager with neck and legs just loosely attached to his body and flopping all over the place, but his head was in a decent position.
From his back, his head comes up only when I'm trying to hold him back. He wants to go and I want him to walk politely = head up. Trot and canter = head in good position. Walking politely only because I got him so tired that he doesn't want to "go" = head in nice position.
I think he's either avoiding the nutcracker of the bit when I hold him back, or he's trying to prevent being held back at all. I should get my answer when I try the french-link. I did follow him up like a merry-go-round pole today and he backed off and lowered his head very quickly. He didn't like that at all.

Last edited by freia; 11-15-2011 at 07:45 PM.
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post #8 of 15 Old 11-15-2011, 10:25 PM
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I disagree on the praise/treats also. Horses work for treats and praise just like we do. If several of my horses are fighting to get on the pedestal when we have visitors while they are loose in the pasture and then stomp a foot on it to draw attention to it... 'nuf said.
I have many other examples but don't feel like typing them just now.
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post #9 of 15 Old 11-16-2011, 09:20 AM
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Of course horses are food oriented and treats (or any food) can be used to 'coax' a horse into doing a behavior you want to teach that can be coaxed.

Now show me how it relates to teaching 'pressure and release' to a horse moving under saddle? They are completely different. When you are teaching a horse to yield to pressure applied to that horse's mouth, ribs, ????, the only reward he needs is relief or release of that pressure.

Probably one of the easiest ways to understand the difference is to take the horse that is coaxed to go into a trailer with feed and treats. He goes in on his terms and when he wants to to get the treat. The day he does not want to go into the trailer, the handler finds out that the horse has only been coaxed into the trailer -- not taught to properly load because it has been taught to respond to the pressure applied to the halter. It isn't looking for the release -- it is only looking for the 'goody' and does not want one that day. It will not load into a different trailer or go in for a different person or ???? It has only gotten in on its terms. That is not trained.

Same can be said for leading. One can coax a horse to 'follow' with treats. They are not 'broke' to lead until they will go where they really do not want to go simply because their 'leader' has taught them to lead with pressure and release.

I talk to my horses, pet them and occasionally 'reward' them with a cube. But, I am not delusional enough to think that is why they behave and do what they are asked.

I like to use this example of misplaced and 'late' rewards back-firing: I used to help a lot of barrel racers with spoiled barrel horses. Many riders find that their barrel horse does not want to go into the arena. They rear, spin around and some require a ground handler or pony horse to get them into the arena. Others bolt for the gate after going to or around the first barrel. It is very common for barrel horses to prefer being outside of the arena than inside of it performing. These same horse often love running a pattern out in a field or somewhere else. Why do they get so 'arena sour'?

What I have observed is these same horses being whipped and spurred to the gate at the end of each pattern. [Some are also yanked, jerked and spurred around each barrel rather than being taught their job.] What is the first thing these riders do after their horse runs out of the gate? They quit whipping and spurring, drop the reins and pet and praise their horse -- for the run just finished. They think they are rewarding the barrel run made 20 seconds earlier. Their horse just knows all the pressure was removed as soon as they got away from that terrible arena where they were whipped and spurred. These same horses are often ridden to their trailer and tied up, unsaddled and given the ultimate reward.

Give this string of events, why would any horse want to go into an arena to be whipped and spurred and run out of the arena and rewarded for it. And even then, the actual reward was not the petting and praising but the relief of all the pressure.
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post #10 of 15 Old 11-16-2011, 09:38 AM
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Freia, the snaffle, used correctly, works on the lips. It's not meant for someone who hauls on the horse's mouth, which would create a squeezing affect. I'd stay with the snaffle. He's learned that a high nose is a form of evasion. By bracing my hands on the pommel and letting the horse find that he can release the pressure when he drops his nose. I use the pommel so I don't accidently move my hands back when he releases. This is done at a standstill to start. As Stacy Westfall would say, let him find the answer.
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