Nose to Ground While Long Lining/Ground Driving, Ideas?
Jazz is 3 1/2. At the suggestion of a new trainer, we went back to long lining/ground driving today. No problem, I thought - this is old to her. She was only in halter.
Turns out, my little mare could definitely benefit from revisiting this early groundwork (early meaning fundamental, basic, terribly important).
Today was successful, minus one issue. She is acting like a bloodhound - when she is walking, she wants that nose buried in the ground. She will lift it when I say 'head up' but when I tell her to stop, she does but does not stand, she buries her nose back down and begins to walk away - nose to the ground.
Last week she started putting her head down the second I unclipped one cross tie, she's putting her nose to the ground when I go to bridle... I tell her head up, she listens, but I'm wondering if there are other ideas for when we're long lining and she does not stand still when we stop.
I don't know if this is helpful, but one of my horses used to do it when she was nervous. I didn't worry about it a ton while longing. When I started riding her, I just didn't give her enough rein to do it. It eventually resolved itself as she became more comfortable with the training.
What did your trainer say?
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She has discovered she can escape contact or get away from pressure by dropping her head. There are not a lot of horses that discover this avoidance mechanism, but a few do. She will also learn to flex at the wrong place in her neck. She will be very difficult to get to flex at the poll if you don't get her over this bad habit. Every time she want to avoid work and difficult engagement, she will just thrust her head down. I have had to get pretty rough on ones that have already learned this cute little trick.
We do not run into it very often with our own and never while driving because we set up ground driving with an over-check or a side-check. Regular driving bridles are set up for check reins that keep a horse's head up. We just make an over-check by using a piece of 1/4 inch nylon cord. We tie it to the bit, run it through the top ring on a flat web or leather halter, run it through the front ring on a surcingle or behind a saddle-horn, run it back through the top ring on the other side of the halter and fasten it to the other side of the bit. We also frequently use a check on horses when we longe them with a saddle.
We adjust an over-check so that the horse can keep his neck level but not get it much lower than that. It helps with all aspects of ground driving. It makes a horse 'break at the poll instead of in the middle of the neck which puts all of their weight on the front end.
We also adjust the same kind of over-check whenever we 'bit a horse up'. Again, it is to get the flexion at the poll and not in the middle of the neck. Once a horse learns to give in the middle of his neck (or worse yet, right in front of the withers), it is very hard to break that habit and it really 'dumps' a horse over on the front end.
The trainer said "you can't let her do that", which obviously I know... She said jazz wanted to explore just get her head up and keep going.
But, now that's I've read Cherie post I'm worried it isn't curiosity.
Cherie, this trainer put us back on long lines b/c she said jazz didn't steer right~ she's also putting nose to the ground while we ride...
Can u talk to me a little more about what I should be doing to stop this. Go back to flex exercises ? I don't know why but something makes me think jazz is giving up at her withers but I'm not certain.
If you are on her back, 'rip' her head off for dropping it. She won't do it if you don't allow it. Since she already has the bad habit, she is going to have to think she ran into a buz-saw every time she tries the bad head position.
She is doing it 'because she can'. It stretches her rains longer. As she gets ridden more, she will just rip the reins right out of her rider's hands. Quite a few horses learn to do this when they are ridden mostly by little kids.
I have a couple of older trail horses ridden almost exclusively by beginner children (we take out riders 6 and up). They cannot even begin to keep their heads up so we just ride them in an over-check. I have one built into each of their bridles and just put a double half hitch over the saddle-horn just before we leave.
Have you tried lounging with side reins?
Have you considered she's stretching her back? We have a therapy horse with a serious lack of back muscling, when he's being ridden it's obviously a lot of work for his weak back (he's only ridden by light kids and only at the walk) - he often stretches his nose down to the ground to stretch out his back. He's not avoiding contact or anything like that as he's being lead by a leader on the ground (not the leader).
What's your horse's topline like? Is it nice and strong? Is it stiff?
You mentioned she does this even on the cross ties and in the halter? I don't think that's just avoiding contact if you don't have contact. Standing on the cross ties is a silly time to want her nose to the ground.
Does she look nervous while she does this? A horse I know was trained to drop her nose to the ground whenever she was nervous - to shift her out of flight mode. It works, she'll drop her nose and dance in place a bit.
Or is she looking for food? When you long line her is there grass that she's going for?
I think there could be a number of reasons for this - good luck, keep us posted.
Wouldnt' the response to this vary according to why the horse is putting its' head down? I mean, if it's doing this out of curiosity that's one thing. If it's doing this even when there is not contact on the bridle , halter, would you do the same correction as you would for a hrose that does this in response to the rider taking up contact with the bit/halter? Because THAT would be avoidance of contact , an evasion that really could become a bad habit.
I was taught that when riding , and I took up some contact , asking the horse to flex at the poll, if the hrose responded by diving downward, or coming behind the bit, that I should quickly leg the horse forward, give it some rein so it can move quickly forward and raise its' own head (which is the natural response if it leaps forward), then retake contact and ask it to accept and bend.
Also, if leading the hrose and they dive for grass, to flip the line at the horse's head, to essentially drive it forward (though in reality it just jumps slightly) rather than trying to pull the horse's head up.
I am no trainer and have never worked with a horse that barges the reins like that, only horses that are evasive of contact when trotting forward.
Thanks everyone. I agree with and appreciate all that has been posted. I went today and long lined her again - this time, I was ready for the nose diving and asked my trainer prior to our session, what the heck do I do when she does this. She said "jiggle your line and move her forward, which will lift her head and then steer her left or right so she can't brace her head back down". I did, and it worked. The more we did it, it got so I was able to catch her before her nose was all the way down... well sometimes. So, progress at least in the arena on long lines.
What clicked while working her today was that I have about 10-12 minutes and her attention is gone. Lose the attention, nose goes down. So when I felt her attention starting to wane, I would vary the walking routine enough that she had to pay attention for a few more minutes, then we finished up on a good note.
In the barn/aisle, she doesn't seem to be nervous as much as impatient - she wants her nose not only on the ground, but today she wanted it in the muck bucket, the other stalls, everywhere but still - and this very new and honestly, very annoying.
As for stretching her back- I feel like an idiot that I never considered something like that... I know my trainer did say during an unrelated conversation that jazz had a nice topline but the discussion didn't go any further in that regard.
Cherie, I am very aware and very much a believer of what you said - I do think, and I could be wrong, that when under saddle and when in the bit, she does know head to the ground means evading the contact.
My instinct here is to keep working this out on the ground and not even do this schooling under saddle right now... she is still young and my first trainer left some serious holes in her training that I'd like to fill in now.
Thank you everyone, I cannot tell you how much your feedback helps.
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