Mare Holds Head Way To High
I have a 4 yearold mare who holds her head way to high. I feel as if I am in less control, even though her objective is not to get away from the bit she still has not learned to accept it and benefit from it by lowering her head into a level headset. I realize she is 4 and has only been undersaddle for less then a year, but I want to kick the habit early. I lunge her with a surcingle, but when it comes to riding the head pops right back up. What equipment would assist as an aid, and what are the pros/cons to this product. I have heard that if a horse keeps a high headset then it can cause back problems down the road? Is this true?
You don't need equipment. You need to develop timing and feel. She IS raising her head to avoid the bit. That's why horsees do that. Teach her to give to pressure and don't release the pressure until her head is where you want it. If you pull on the reins and then release when her head comes up then you are training her to go around with her head in the air and her back hollow.
It is true that horses that hold their head high can end up causing trouble just because they're less under control, so its good to nip this in the bud. Your mare is young and most likely fairly green, but there are some things you can to do teach her to carry her head lower.
a) well first off, the general rule is 'back to front', meaning that in order to get her to carry her head nicely, you need to make sure she's carrying her front end nicely. To do that, is to make sure she's collected, and is working in a small 'box' area. Her hind legs shouldnt drag behind her, she shouldnt look like she's reaching up too much, and her butt should be straight behind you. (her not swerving her butt around as she moves like a bumper car.) Most of these things really just need a good trainer to help you with, as it takes time. Once she has her hind end nice and collected, her front end is automatically going to collect also. That's going to bring her head not only down- but into a rounded form. This will keep you in control of her, and all together make her look very nice. Remember that this can take a very long time, especially on a young horse without a trainer. But collection is the key. Its not just a matter of getting her head down to make her look nice, its getting it rounded.
b) another idea is martingales, if once you have her rounded and such she's still carrying her head a bit high. You'll need professional advice to see exactly what she'll need, and how to use it- but a running martingale might help you correct her problem. Give her some slack anytime that she puts her head down nicely, and keep it just tight enough to be uncomfortable when her head is above your shoulders.
c) lastly, a change in bridle might also help her become more sensative to you, and want to flex her neck muscles more. A hackamore that directly applies pressure to her nose may work better than a snaffle, or curb- because it's less harsh and instead of pulling at her mouth, it will be pressing downwards on the bridge of her nose- thus making her want to drop her head. A Bosal hackamore might be a good ide.a
Still, its all a matter of how rounded she is. Even with a martingale AND a hackamore, she' still may not lower her head because she isn't set well. The fancy tack might keep her looking OK, but they wont solve the problem. Get with a trainer and work on her form. I promise you that it will make a difference for both of you.
I know a lot of people use a training fork to get their horses head down but the problem is typically only temporarily fixed because the horse learns to rely on it. I see this as a starting point but it's not a perminant fix because when you take it off, you won't have another way of putting her head down.
I'd find a way to teach her to put her head down by rein or leg. At my barn we use a one-rein head down where you pick up on a rein with one hand and bring it up against their neck without crossing over to the other side. slowly increase pressure and as you increase pressure, move your hand/rein closer to your horse's head. when she drops her head, release the pressure and rein. you can use a little leg to push her into her headset too if you want. it depends on if you want her to rely on rein or rein and leg. with this, with young horses, you want to make small steps (so an inch down with the head is okay) and then once she understands, start expecting more of her by lowering her head where you want it and have her hold it there by asking her multiple times in a row if she jerks her head up.
other people use a two handed head down cue by picking up on both reins (works best if you ride one handed) and giving their horses a little squeeze forward to push themselves into the headset and release when they drop their head.
There's also the see-saw method where you just see-saw with your hands (squeeze right, release, squeeze left, release and repeat really quickly, stop when they put their head when you want it.) but I don't see the point of this really besides it CAN be less noticeable to a judge if you do it correctly. if you do it wrong, it's REALLY obvious you are doing it.
I've also seen people just pick up contact on their horse and push them into the bit and just expect them to learn that that is where they want their head to be.
the see-sawing and the training fork would probably be the easiest solutions but both of them tend to fail in the long run, at least in my experience. the others will take quite a bit of work, but you will have a set cue for her to put and keep her head down for you instead of a slight chance she will keep it down.
I'm with Kevin, no special equipment. I also have to strongly caution you against sea-sawing, horses tend to sway their heads back and forth and it's ugly to watch a rider do so and it just doesn't always help...The first barn I rode at sea-sawed, and yes I was sucked in too, just word to the wise, don't do it!
I suggest giving firm even pressure to the bit with both reins (pulling back and a tad up) while driving forward with your legs and seat. Do not release until your mare gives, as soon as she does release all pressure. Everytime she breaks her head set, repeat the process. Even if you have to ask for a correcton every few seconds, keep asking and never just hold your horses head in place. I had a trainer who said something along the lines of, you have to let the horse make the mistake so you can go in and correct them. That way they learn right from wrong on their own. You also encounter a little less fighting sometimes then with the horses who are tied down.
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This is actually very very helpful. I suppose she could be trying to avoid the bit, but I think she is very high strung as well. I have tried the sea sawing method, and it seems insufficient and confusing for I back her up with a similar cue. I will try Zeke's method, but could someone explain collection for me? And how it is done
I agree with Kevins response and here is an article on true collection that you might find informative.
It is not something that you understand instantly but something that you work hard at. Also, whilst running martingales/training forks certainly have their function, that function is NOT to lower a horses head. They are used for horses that throw their head intermittently to prevent the rider from being hit in the face. If adjusted correctly they will not help with a horse that simply carries its head high.
That article has a good explanation of what happens to the musculature along the neck if the head is artificially lowered on page 6.
Also it has sections for reining, cutting, gaited horses, race horses, jumpers, hunters as well as dressage so it is really worth reading no matter what you plan on doing with your horse.
Why does a horse run with it's head in the air?
THis seems to be the question you might ask yourself. It might be habit, it might be in some ways associated with the breed or build of the horse, or it MIGHT be painful saddle fit. So, that is one thing you want to be sure of before you go even one step farther.
The bit is another thing that might be causeing pain, thus an avoidance behavior. Not necessarily the bit, but the mouth if it's got any rough teeth or other issues.
Once that is clarified, then you can look at the giraffing as a pure behavior issus.
You got a lot of good advice and stuff about collection. Collection is all good and well but it comes farther down the line from what I percieve you are faced with right now. It is said that collection work from rear to front and this is true, but you cannot collect a horse if "the front door won't close".
So, I think you need to have the horse bring its' nose down a little first and foremost. For one thing , as you said, you don't have very good control when the horse is going above the bit like that.
One good thing, however, it's easier to train a horse that comes above the bit to come to the bit, than it is to train a horse that comes behind the bit to come to the bit.
I am of the camp that when she puts her head up, you lift one or both reins (but one with more contact than the other) and put on a steady resistance to her pull, ONE OUNCE more than she does. She will move around trying to find the way out of this resistance and when by chance she finds that dropping her nose (and be sharp to look for the tiniest drop that she might make) you reward her with a good release. You will have to do this many times. If she gets stuck and won't make a choice when faced with this pressure you put on her (or rather she puts on herself, because remember, it was she that put her head up in the first place) , if she gets stuck, help her by putting a little leg on which will get her to move forward and thus put her nose down,
Work on this and only this for awhile. Practice it all the time. It is like Kevin said, you must develop real feel. Once you have this, it will be much easier to work the horse from back ro front because you will HAVE a front to work toward!
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