Inconsistent Head Placement
Chevy and I have been working in dressage the past 3 years. The end of last year he was finally rounding his head and looking decent, but he was very flat and not propelling himself from behind. The past 3 months he has IMMENSELY began to propel himself, and he is moving and able to extend 3/4 the way and I am so excited! He has now, however, lost his beautiful head set! He either sticks it up in the air, looking like a unicorn or a pack mule, or he puts his head so far down, he has kicked himself in the face before!
I hold my outside rein and wiggle the inside with my inside leg pushing to bend him to the outside and he gives me the head set I want, but its only for a few steps and he throws it to the ground then tosses it in the air. I keep a consistent light contact on the bit (a snaffle) and when he does what I ask him to, I give him a light squeeze to step into what I'm asking, then I remove 1/2 the weight i was using to ask him to work with. Any advice/tips/or exercises I can do would be insanely helpful! Thanks y'all, have a good day!
I've been working on a similar issue but mine was because I was working front to back instead of back to front. Now that I have him in front of my leg it's much easier to him round/on the bit. The headset itself is not really the desired outcome. What you're looking for is for him to lift his back. Can you feel a difference when you're riding him?
To me, his lifting and lowering his head, and not being consistent is because he's lacking balance. I hate using the word head set. What you should be looking for, is overall frame, moving from behind, lifting his back up, being balanced, and his head "falling" into place because he's balanced and moving properly. If you can't feel if he's lifting up his back, have someone knowledgeable watch you, and take a video so you can see, and start to feel when he lifts his back.
Something else to watch and feel for, is he leaning instead of bending? While round penning does have it's place, I feel like it teaches the horse to lean in instead of moving straight, if you can understand that. When I lunge horses, I use the whole arena, I don't lunge in a round pen, unless it's a youngster first learning. That way it helps prevent the horse from leaning as he/she's moving in a circle. What breed is he? Some breeds/conformations make it a bit harder for the horse to really be able to lift up his back, so exercises and techniques can be used to help, so pictures and breed would help.
Any possibility of back pain? That behaviour sounds a lot like what my mare was doing when she was trying to tell me her saddle was hurting her. Saddle is fitted now and head tossing is gone.
It sounds to me like he has just taught you a solid lesson in the fact that you were holding him into a fake frame previously.
Keeping the hind legs engaged is not about running the horse on fast, which happens all too commonly with new riders thinking the hind legs are 'engaged'. Active hind legs happen without flying around the arena at a million miles an hour. So first thing, make sure this is not what you are doing.
Second, have you started any work towards laterals, namely leg yield and turn on the forehand? If not, I would start it. These movements teach the horse to move from the inside leg, and fill up the rein. Which then leads to lateral movement beginning with shoulder fore and working from there.
This work will assist in developing a contact and a soft back which in turn is where your so called 'head set' will come about.
Regarding contact, it needs to be consistent. You can't squeeze and then give it away. By doing that you are essentially dropping the horse on it's head.
Ride with an active seat - your seat should be doing 95% of the work, the leg and hand is there just to support. You seat holds the horse together, it dictates speed, direction, length of stride, tempo, rhythm, gait, stop, go, turn.... If you rely on reins and legs, the horse will be unbalanced, unsupported and ultimately ends up on the forehand or in a forced, stiff frame.
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