I was wondering for those who show western pleasure how you teach an older horse to drop their heads into the correct position. My gelding is 10 and I have had him for about 3 years and I never have been able to get a consistent head set for western pleasure. I have had one judge at a show tell that if everytime he looked at my his head was in a different position. If it had remained in the a consistent position I would place higher or actually placed in the class.
Any advice would be apprieciated. Also I do the training myself because I cannot afford a trainer. :-(
If a WP judge told me he didn't lloke wear my horses head was I would take it as a compliment and a sign I was doing the right thing.
I dislike WP so much that I won't comment further for risk of hijacking your thread. There are a few different ways you could lower your horses head but where should it be naturally in relation to the rest of his conformation? Find where he needs it to be and leave it there and if it keeps you from winning in WP then find another discipline. That's my advice as you can tell I am not unbiased so feel free to ignore it.
What does he do with his head right now? Is it his head that needs to come down, or his neck? Basically, you start with teaching lateral flexion, then vertical flexion where the horse gives at the poll & then you take it a step further and ask for vertical flexion with the horse giving at the poll and dropping from the withers. Lots of circles, lots of change of direction, more circles. I keep a long rein so that my horse can learn to carry himself, but I also shorten up on those reins to remind the horse to give & drop. Never can you forget about forward motion & impulsion throughout all of this, so you need to keep your horse moving, keep his back lifted & his hocks engaged with your legs while you're asking him to give with your hands.
I totally agree with Gottaride!! Lateral and vertical flexion are very important.
Lateral flextion is KEY to Vertical Flextion. Start with Lateral. You need to get him/her flexing their neck. Say you've got them bridled and saddled. Stand at right side of the horse at its flanks faceing the horses body. With your right hand take the right rein and flex the horse neck. I don't know how flexable your horse is but do not flex all the way so the horse is touching himself. I'd start at 90 angle. Take the right rein in your right hand and hold it up in the saddle seat but keep it on the right side of the horses spine. Take your left hand and hold on to the back of the saddle. Hold it there. Usually the horse will lean on it. He/She might circle but go with him/her and hold. Once he/she softens and give to the pressure on the rein, release the rein as if it was on fire. I like to let my horse have a few seconds to have a straight neck and then I repeat it several times. I usually do this exersize 10-15 min on each side of the horse.
Thats one of the steps I would use. Once you've got Lateral down, then its REALLY easy to get thehorse to give vertically. You should look into getting Clinton Anderson's Riding with Confidence Series 1. Its all about getting the horse soft and supple. Hope this helps!!
I have used a bunch Clinton Anderson's methods and my horse does both lateral and vertical flexion but he is just not consistent about keeping his head and neck in one place. It either comes up or down.
I doubt it is truely a head/neck "problem". The head and neck do not act independently from the rest of the body, they are an extension of the spine and react how the spine/back is reacting. If the back hollows, the neck/head go up, if the spine "rounds" or contracts, the head and nect generally go "down" and stetch forward, though they can the be altered by riders force.
My guess is you horse hasn't been properly taught how to carry the weight of a rider beyond the walk, if that. Though, since we don't have any visible aids to base that assumtion on, it is indeed just an assumption.
Instead of working on forcing the head/neck into a certain position, a.k.a. a headset, which would just mask the underlying back insecurities - work on teaching your horse how to cope with your weight while working at the various gaits. The reason why most horses and riders find that their horse will throw his/her head/neck up at the trot, canter/lope, and gallop when they are seemingly moving nicely at the walk is because unlike at the walk, the three other gaits have a moment of suspention where the rider, just like the horse, is air-borne or a moment where their weight is slightly lifted off the horses back (which is where you as the rider must conciously work on your riding to absorb this shock by sitting light and letting your weight be transfered down you legs and and absorbed by your ankles, not your horses back) and when your weight comes back down, the horse does what every horse's reaction is to an uncomfortable situation; they evade that pain - and generally that is by hollowing the back to get away from the weight and thus their necks continue that concaved arch and the head goes up.
So, before you go and try and fix your horses head set - you first need to figure out why he is raising and lowering his neck in the first place. :)
I would also guess that rider inconsistency is a big part of the problem. To expand on Jag's comments, specifically, the rider needs to know what to ask of the horse, when to ask the horse, how to ask the horse, and do this consistently every step of the ride. Western pleasure riders might look like they are "just sitting there" up in the saddle, but it is so much harder than it looks! Never do I just sit when I'm training or showing western pleasure. You have to ride all parts of the horse, feel what is happening underneath you, then adjust for it. This is especially important when the horse doesn't have a strong natural talent for WP.
If you've done the work with lateral & vertical flexion, my next guess is that you are not following through with the body work & you are not asking for consistency from your horse.
If I were you I would seriously consider having someone look at my horse's conformation... it could be he is trying to go how you are asking but he cannot hold that 'look' due to his build and natrual way of going.
Western Pleasure is a discipline that has established a standard "shape" or form of both the horse and rider. Whether the standard shape is correct or not is certainly open to debate but it is what it is.
Like all other disciplines it takes proper training of both the horse and rider to compete at the level required to be at the top. The higher the level of competition the more training.
If you truly want to compete at a level that gets you some ribbons you need some professional help. In other words "money". Do some investigating and you will find that there are a few trainers in your area whose clients consistently place in the top 3 or 4 at the shows. Find one you like and let them evaluate you and your horse and listen to their recommendations. They can tell you the level of competition you and your horse can compete at and the time frame and dollars involved to achieve the goal.
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