Teaching a horse to relax/stretch - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 13 Old 09-09-2013, 04:07 PM Thread Starter
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Teaching a horse to relax/stretch

I can get Jasper to relax and stretch(his head and neck) down a little at the walk, but anything faster then that and he consistently keeps his head quite high. He is a standardbred so it's expected, but I really want him to stretch down a little when I ask him to. He does the same when I lunge him without tack. Is there anyway I can teach him to stretch at the trot? Could it be a lack of muscle or his conformation?

This is about as low as his neck will go when we're trotting Oh, and by the way, I always ride him in a halter.

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post #2 of 13 Old 09-09-2013, 04:16 PM
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I'm wondering why you aren't training him in a saddle. With correct padding, either a pad and a Western or a pad and an English, it's more comfortable for the horse, and I'm thinking that could be your problem. You are like a sack of potatoes on his back without and saddle, and you are like a properly secured backpack WITH one.
After that you could do alternate fast work, then walking, or just spend one month just walking and see if that would retrain him.

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post #3 of 13 Old 09-09-2013, 04:35 PM Thread Starter
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I don't usually ride him bareback, Corporal.

Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad. ~ Miles Kington
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post #4 of 13 Old 09-09-2013, 04:52 PM
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I believe gaited horse do naturally hold their head higher because when they gait, they need to bob their heads more so then other horses, but not for sure on that. I think using a martingale or tie down might help, preferably a martingale. Work on him flexing her neck by having one rein in each hand and bringing your hands down to around your knees and do small "j" motions with your wrists while kicking with your heels gently. Once he drops his head even the slightest, release all pressure. Do this at a stand still, then work up. He might get confused at first, because by kicking him he will think it's time to go. Been working on this recently with my gelding who's headset was super high and in just a week he's gotten a lot better. I hope it helps you! :) Not sure since you're not using a bit if the results will be the same.


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post #5 of 13 Old 09-09-2013, 04:53 PM
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What do you do to get him to stretch at a walk? Make sure his head is as low as possible at a walk before you ask for a trot. Repeat, repeat, and he will get it eventually.

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post #6 of 13 Old 09-09-2013, 05:28 PM Thread Starter
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pbeebs, hmm, I usually do a little bit of lateral flexing, but I think he would get really confused if I tried that.

Greentree, I just give him a lot of rein and he'll generally stretch down. I tried doing a bunch of walk trot transitions, but his head never failed to come back up :(

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post #7 of 13 Old 09-09-2013, 06:10 PM
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Maybe his neck isn't tired, so he doesn't feel a need to stretch it?

"Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing...well, ignore it mostly."
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post #8 of 13 Old 09-09-2013, 06:23 PM
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I wish I could better explain the exercise in words but I used to ride an Appendix mare who would bring her head up as soon as she got moving faster than a walk. My trainer would have me relax and hold the reins down by my knees, keeping them taught but fairly long. I would then sit the trot and give a small tug (half halts almost) on one rein, then the other. When the horse brought her head down I gave her a little more rein, if she picked her head up I took the length back. From there we worked on being able to work my hands higher and higher up to where they should be in front of me. I hope this makes sense but eventually she learned that if she didn't want to be bumped in the mouth and if she wanted more slack in the reins then she should put her head down.
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post #9 of 13 Old 09-09-2013, 09:59 PM
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headdesk...sorry but if I read one more post about flexing a head or pulling it down with reins to get a horse to relax, I am going to lose it.

OP, see how you are traveling in a straight line? There is the primary flaw in your training. To get a horse to relax and to stretch, bend has to be present. Not the neck, the body. Forget about everything on your horse that is in front of the withers. You need to learn how to manipulate the shoulders, the hinds legs and get that thing you're sitting on, it's mid-section, to bend.

Think inside and outside. Stay on large circles and stay off the railing. On every circle, you should supply the horse with a nice supple inside leg at the girth for it to bend around and a supporting outside leg just behind the girth to keep its hind end from swinging out. You control the shoulders with your arms, which are an extension of your reins. Outside rein gives the horse support to step into, inside rein acts as more a gentle massaging rein to keep the bend.

If you take lessons or are good at self teaching, learn leg yielding, turn on haunches and turn on forehand. Those 3 things alone at work wonders at the walk for unlocking all the stiff parts. Once you have your horse loosened up at the walk, stay on those circles and trot only a few strides at a time. Every time your horse starts to stiffen up, come back to walk, re-establish softness and go back to trot.

I cannot stress this enough. Forget about the head and neck. Absolutely nothing happens there that affects bend. Do be sure to follow your horse's motion at the walk and canter with your hands or the back will lock up and not be able to relax no matter what you do. Also be very careful to provide nice quiet hands at the trot. The less noise through the reins, the better. Hope this helps. Good luck.

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post #10 of 13 Old 09-09-2013, 10:53 PM
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I'm going to say that a horse cannot relax if it is feeling tense. Tension is caused by many things:

Body out of alignment
Poor saddle fit
Rough hands
Confusing aids
Stiff rider
Ill-fitting tack
Any pain
Inexperience (such as a greener horse may not have the confidence that a more seasoned horse does)

First the foremost, the tack needs to fit. The horse needs to be warmed up properly. The rider must be relaxed and fluid, not ridgid and tense themselves.

Then comes the style of riding. Western has less contact and possibly different style of bit, english has more contact and possibly different style of bit.

The bit can only be chosen by the horse. It needs to be appropriate for what you are doing with your horse. I see in this photo you are riding in a halter. Do you ride in a halter often? A hackamore? A bridle? That is crucial to a horse being able to relax as some horses respond to different methods of pressure than others.

My horse relaxes in a halter or western headstall. He tends to be more "up" with contact but when warmed up properly he relaxes into it.

There is a different between short reins and tight reins. Short means length. Tight means that you are cranking the head down via the reins.

There is a difference between long reins and loose reins. Loose means flapping, long means encouraging the horse to stretch forward and down ON THEIR OWN. When you start messing with their mouth or neck.. you aren't helping them out.

Sure you can flex to unlock a stiff jaw but find why the jaw is stiff in the first place! Maybe the reins aren't a good length. Maybe your hands are tugging them around. Maybe the saddle doesn't fit.

Pain.. well it is my belief that horses would be looked over by a chiro/vet when they don't seem themselves.

The other things are more about rider knowledge. It is up to us as a rider to ride effectively instead of jarringly or aggressively.

I find that when I do circles, serpentines, loopy figure eights.. it helps to loosen and relax the horse I'm working with. That's due to the soft bend the horse has (with my help) through their body. My reins stay exactly where they are at the start of the ride. Sometimes I use an opening rein when we canter circles since he's a little less experienced (as am I) but for the most part they stay just above the withers. The rest of my (seat and legs) make slight adjustments to turn or bend or ask for more impulsion.

It's exhausting (seriously I'm still extremely sore from my weekend lesson) but it's better to ride a relaxed loose horse than crank them down into "low" (which doesn't exactly mean relaxed).. and have a false result which brings about bad habits.
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