Mare Refuses to Lower Head/Tosses Her Head - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 15 Old 12-30-2013, 08:25 PM Thread Starter
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Mare Refuses to Lower Head/Tosses Her Head

I've been working with a 7-year-old Arabian mare for a few weeks now. She has a severe head issue. No matter what you do with the rest of her body (i.e. flexing, engaging hind end, etc), she will stick her head high in the air. The only thing that works on her is a training fork, which I know isn't a long-term solution. When we use it, she gives to the bit nicely, but then she tosses her head violently. I don't think it's a pain problem because she only tosses when she sees something out of the corner of her eye, and she stops tossing towards the end of the session.

I feel like it's a mental problem. Even when I ask her to lower her head in order to bridle her, she won't budge. Does anyone have any advice on how to proceed? Besides using the training fork, I have no other ideas.

For reference, this is how she looks with the training fork and after we've worked out the kinks:

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post #2 of 15 Old 12-30-2013, 09:13 PM
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From what you've said, this sounds like a behavioral problem. However, you may want to have her physically checked before ruling other things out. Have her teeth been done recently/are they rubbing? Is she uncomfortable in the bit? She may have a very sensitive mouth. If none of that applies, it definitely is behavioral. In which case, I've known several horses that did this simply out of lack of respect for the rider. Not sure if that's the case. I hope this helps!
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post #3 of 15 Old 12-30-2013, 09:40 PM
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I'd get everything checked out of course before calling it a behavior problem. When is the least time she's had an adjustment or had her teeth done? If it's just when she sees something out of the corner of her eye i'd get her eyes checked too.

What mouth pieces and cheek pieces have you tried on her?

The martingale is just a badly put on bandaid. Right now, the two of you look to be in a big pulling match, she's running around on the forehand, not being soft in the face at all and you're leaning back at times and looking to be putting a good bit of pressure on her to keep her in a frame.

Now keep in mind I am coming from a western perspective but all of my horses are trained to ride on contact ( eventually) without being on the forehand, behind the vertical etc.

I'd take her back to the beginning, she just really doesn't look like she has a clue how to respond to two reins and i'm going to take a guess that she isn't the softest off of just one?

I introduce contact about two months into a horses training. Before I introduce contact, that horse is butter soft everywhere. There is no resistance to one rein at all and m horses move off of just a touch of my calf, whether it's moving their shoulders, rib cage or hindquarters, my horses also rate off my seat. The next step is introducing the correct response to two reins, I introduce it at a halt. I will flex my horse a couple times first and I want a correct flex. I don't want the horses nose cranked to the side, if it takes more pressure than just closing my fingers on my reins or starting to take the slack out, the horse isn't prepared yet. When that is good I take the slack out of both reins and wait.

In the first couple lessons I just want the horse to give, whether it is a downward motion or breaking at the poll, anything that creates slack in my reins without head tossing. From there I get pickier and want flexion at the poll without the horse hiding behind the vertical. Next is that I hold that till I get a correct step back, I will hold till I get a step backwards and feel the shoulders lifting as the horse steps back while maintaining softness in the face.

I spend a couple weeks perfecting a backup before I move onto a stop from a walk( first time I use two reins while the horse moves). I pick up, just as softly as I do when backing and wait until I feel my horses back raise and hindquarters step under to a stop. I'll then back a couple nice correct steps.

I'll then do this for a couple weeks, progressing to a trot and lope. When my horse is riding into the stop very well I introduce contact.

At this point i'll take the slack out of my reins and my horse will start to come back to a stop, when my horse starts to come back i'll cluck and put my calf on. At that point my horses will then push forward off of their hind end and i'll keep a soft following contact. Some horses will raise their head and others will tr to suck back, i'll keep that soft contact, cluck and use my calf till I get one excellent stride where I can feel my horses back raise, my horse track up nicel and be soft in my hands, then i'll let that contact go and go back to riding around on a loose rein. I get that first stride perfected before adding any more.

So, it's quite different than how an English horse is trained but it has worked very well for me.
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post #4 of 15 Old 12-30-2013, 09:59 PM
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If her head is girraffing it then there's no way you're engaging her hind. Her hind isn't engaged in the vid you posted- she's running around at a four beat wimpy canter with her head tied down learning nothing but how to brace against the bit and pressure on the poll. You need to back it up a few steps and do a couple things.

One, teach her to lower her head to pressure on the poll from the ground. This is an essential thing for any horse to know as it can come in handy if you're ever in a medical pinch where she needs care. If you're not sure how to teach this respond and I'll get on my computer so that I can type out a longer response.

Two, you need to take the martingale off (couldn't see any bit stoppers on it so it shouldn't have been on as a safety concern in the first place). Then don't worry too much about her head, just teach her how to properly engage her hind end and use it to propel herself forward, not her forelegs to pull herself. Sure it won't look pretty at first, but once she's properly developed those muscles to keep her neck and head in the frame you're trying to achieve it will come much easier.

Good luck
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post #5 of 15 Old 12-30-2013, 10:13 PM
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My mare also did this when I first got her. I decided to stop riding and restart from the ground, and so far it has worked wonders. She's really learning how to stretch down, and when I first started I realized she really couldn't walk/trot/canter well on the ground. So how was she going to do that when I was in the saddle? I plan to continue working on voice commands and being responsive to me on the ground, then very very slowly introduce some light side reins since she either lowers her head or is a giraffe, before I get back in the saddle.
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post #6 of 15 Old 12-31-2013, 02:20 AM
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To me she looks very stiff going around at a canter like that. There is no swing, no movement in her back at all. She's bracing and hollowing, even with the forks.

You've had some good advice; take off the gadget and start from the ground with the fundamentals. Get her to work off the hind and swing; ask for forward, then ask for connection from back to front. With proper work the headset will come. It cannot be rushed. It takes 1 year with correct work to establish a topline.

"There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." -- Albert Einstein
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post #7 of 15 Old 12-31-2013, 12:19 PM Thread Starter
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First of all, thanks everyone for the great advice. I'll admit that I'm in over my head with this mare. My trainer (who owns her) doesn't have the time to work with her and he leaves everything up to me. I know a lot of you think that it's better to not ride at all than ride with a bad trainer, but I don't have anywhere else to go and if I don't work with this mare, someone else is going to do worse things to her.

With that said, I hope you guys will still help me do something positive with her. @Ninamebo would you mind elaborating on that? I'm assuming you mean something like apply pressure at the poll until she drops her head. I think I could do that all day and she wouldn't move an inch.

Everyone else: what are some tips to get her soft and engaging the hind end? All the things I've read don't seem to do a thing with her. If I ask her to back up, she'll keep going backwards but she'll never give to the pressure on her face. When I have her going in circles, she giraffes. When I try to connect front end and back end by pushing her with my legs and applying slight pressure on her face, she giraffes even more and fights me.

Also, what should I do specifically on groundwork?
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post #8 of 15 Old 12-31-2013, 12:57 PM
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If she's going around giraffing no matter what you do, I would venture a guess that her saddle doesn't fit...just a thought.
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post #9 of 15 Old 12-31-2013, 03:16 PM
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I'd look into tack fitting as well- or just general pain. For whatever reason her back could be sore, preventing her from doing all this stuff for you.

As for the training, yes, basically pressure and release on the poll. I start with just a hand hovering over the poll and when that doesn't have an impact (which it won't on your girl to start) then add very mild pressure, just your fingers resting lightly on her poll. Nothing there, then add more, more, so on and so forth. The second you get the teeniest response, release all pressure. She's probably bracing because she doesn't know what you are asking at first, and that's ok. The correct timing with the release will eventually show her what you are asking.

And no rush- do it a couple of times a day but don't expect her to be dropping her head to the ground and staying there after a few days- if all you get is a couple inches give at first then great!

As for the forward, think of riding her like a tube of toothpaste- you must squeeze and propel the energy forward from behind to get anything to come out the front. Start teaching her about a constant, elastic contact in your rein aid. One that is forgiving, but not going to up and drop her mouth. Think of the contact with her mouth like two people holding hands and one leading the other.

As you teach her this idea, get her butt in action. This doesn't mean fast little whippy trot around the arena (which I'm sure she probably has in her) but it needs energy. So use your legs to harness and drive that energy forward while encouraging her inside hind to track up under herself by using your inside leg. Your rein aids will be there to guide her too.

Use your seat and outside rein to check her if she's falling forward and losing that energy. Keep it powerful, but underneath of you.

She will eventually realize that stretching long and low over her top line feels really good, but this whole process of encouraging her to use her body correctly and use her hind quarters as her powerhouse is not easy work- as another poster mentioned it can take up to a year to get down pat.

If you can get a vid of her at the walk and trot that would be helpful too.

Consistency in your riding and aids and time will help you both out. Good luck, keep posting awesome questions. We all benefit from them.
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post #10 of 15 Old 12-31-2013, 04:12 PM
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Something that I've found that works well is ground poles while lunging. I'll put three or four in the shape of a circle (after I've warmed her up both directions) and lunge her over them at a trot. Hopefully one day at a canter, but she's still not sure about cantering and ground poles. It's been really great for her to stay interested as well as to learn how to control herself. When I was leasing a horse, we did it jumping - four cross rails in a circle, and you just went around a few times. I rode a great horse, but it was so hard for him because they can't just run around, they actually have to think and I think it'll start engaging the hind end. The ground poles are just a simplified version that I've found my mare likes. :)
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