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What are your best tips for teaching an "upside down" horse to properly carry/use herself?

11 year old, former lesson horse has heavy muscling on the underside of her neck from traveling with head up and back hollowed. Vet cleared sound, teeth and feet are good, western saddle fits well and is being monitored as we improve conditioning.

She's learning to lunge on a line, and I have been rewarding walk & trot strides that show some relaxation/head lowering/more fluid strides instead of short choppy ones. Under saddle she remains tense and hollow until we've walked around quite a bit. Head pops straight up when asked to trot.

Until I can get more cadence at the trot, adding ground poles doesn't seem wise - plus that underside of neck muscling allows her to drag herself over anything. I'm not one for gadgets like neck-stretchers or Pessoa lunging systems, but I'm also not having luck convincing her to give to the bit under saddle - she reacts as if she's being punished, completely different from blank slate colts who will try to find the answer. And until she gives to the bit, I'm not really able to drive her forward to better use her hind end. Was ridden in a Wonder Bit gag when I purchased her, but I am working in a single joint sweet iron western D - she was very distracted in both a SS French link D ring and a copper oval link Eggbutt.

Where would you begin with this type of horse? I bought her to be a pasture companion for the ranch riding/SHOT prospect I recently lost, but she's been tagged in as my right-now ride. Not trying or needing to make her into a show horse, but I do believe properly using her body will help with long term soundness.
 

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We are talking about changing the entire posture of this horse, so it is going to take some time. Thinking about how poor posture affects people, getting in touch with a good equine chiro and massage therapist can only help.

Training wise, I would probably start with a lot of softening. This horse sounds like it's learned to be very bracey to the bit. A good starting point is flexing laterally and rewarding the smallest try. I think it's possible to do this too much. If you can get a nice soft give each way at the beginning and end of each ride for a while, that's great.

Another thing to do would be a lot of figure 8s, serpentines, spiralling in and out of a circle, at a walk until everything feels soft and relaxed, and then add some transitions up to a trot and back down to a walk. An aid such as a running martingale for a handful of rides may help, but it's not necessary.

If her head goes up and she gets bracey while you are riding, raise your hands to follow her mouth instead of trying to pull the head down.

Bad bananas (that's what I call upside down horses) often lack the fitness to work against their poor posture for very long. If you can, some light hill work and long walks to begin with would help immensely. If you can ride out and the horse settles into a nice, rhythmic, head swinging walk, that is going to help get all the right muscles active.
 

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The head position that's part of the 'upside down' neck problem is often a result of the horse trying to avoid the pressure of the bit, I've generally found that switching to a mild straight bit, such as the Nathe or Happy Mouth bits, helps the horse to accept the bit more than any jointed bits does.
Switching to a bitless bridle can also help as that breaks the cycle of habit too.

When you ride in an arena, try making lots of changes in direction and serpentines rather than going round and round in circles as that encourages correct flexion.

If you use side reins (which I have no problem with in cases like this) to try to encourage a correct position on the lunge then attach them to a cavesson and not to the bit.

I wouldn't use anything connected to the bit to try to force the mouth issue.
 

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A novice at this, but I have a high-headed horse who tends to be upside down. My big aha, after all the many admonitions of trainers to try this that and the other, is that there is a prerequisite for accepting the bit and "pushing into" it with a lowered head, an elevated poll, and a round back. And that is relaxation. There is no kind of pressure that works on my horse except to make her brace harder. Only encouragement to relax. The other aha is that this relaxing while correctly flexed is hard for any horse but for one who has a habitually wrong posture it will be that much harder. Baby steps! Make your asks very short at first.
 

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I would re-start her with positive reinforcement, but do your research before starting. I recommend The Willing Equine, JET Equitheory, and the Equitheory Podcast for tips.
 

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Have been through this recently, maybe not as bad. I worked on getting the head down from the ground, from poll pressure, reinforcing with clicker training. Then I built a cue for head down from the ground with the bit. From the saddle, reinforce the head down from bit cue (clicker training/positive reinforcement). Get the head down behavior first, get it consistently, build duration (keeping the head down for longer and at different gaits), finesse comes later. Eventually you may need to teach a cue to LIFT the head.
 

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All great advice above. Is this horse at a disadvantage due to her conformation? If she has a very straight neck, with a low set on point to the shoulder, it will be hard for her to do as you are seeking. And, if she has any kind of physical 'lock' in the poll and the 1st and second vertebra, again, it will be harder than average for her.

How is she at side ways stepping? like , disengageing the hind end. Can she step the inside hind well up under and somwhat across the center line when you ask her to step sideways?
stiffness in the poll is often linked to stiffness in the hind end. I think this is why it is best to ask for an inward flexion , as suggested by @QHriderKE , while the horse is moving on a curve, and why spiraling outward helps, because it asks the horse to step the hind inside leg upward and cross over a bit, loosening the hind end a bit.

Really, I think you are on a good track, with a good approach; slowly, slowly, kindly, kindly.
Best of luck! oh, and attach a video , if yoou will , of how she moves.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
All great advice above. Is this horse at a disadvantage due to her conformation? If she has a very straight neck, with a low set on point to the shoulder, it will be hard for her to do as you are seeking. And, if she has any kind of physical 'lock' in the poll and the 1st and second vertebra, again, it will be harder than average for her.
Yes, this mare has a thick, low set neck, plus a longish back with an overall downhill build, so definite conformational challenges. But I do believe time and patience will help get her using her body a little better, with more relaxation and less bracing. I'll try to get some video.

Thank you all for the input!
 

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I've posted this video many times to show this sympathetic way of moving a stiff school horse into a softer way of moving.

 

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In addition to changes of direction, a lot of walk - trot- walk transitions may help with relaxation, especially if she drops her head more at the walk. I start with 3 stride transitions, working up to 4, then walking 8 strides to 4 trotting strides. I increase the trotting strides as she relaxes. It helped my mare to think about walking instead of going faster, and seemed to relax her and get her to listen to me. I still use lots of transitions to relax her when needed. It may work for you as well
 

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Just remember not to force the issue. My paint mare could never hold the headset of a dressage horse for example. She is built for the english pleasure headset. Her neck conformation would make it impossible for her to give you say a Friesian or Andalusian dressage frame.

If you look at this horse for example, he is really stressing those neck muscles to hold that headset. A Friesian can just tuck their nose in and be in the proper headset. You can do dressage with a quarter horse but you are asking a lot more.

Be mindful of the horse's conformational faults and look for where the horse is more comfortable carrying his head. This doesn't mean the horse should run around with his nose to the sky, but you can ask for limited collection even if it means a level headset with the nose slightly in front of the vertical. Don't overbend, or crank the horses head in. My instructor always said asking for 20 minutes of collected work is asking a lot on a young horse. So keep your sessions short and move on to something else when the horse offers what you are asking.

 

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What are your best tips for teaching an "upside down" horse to properly carry/use herself?

11 year old, former lesson horse has heavy muscling on the underside of her neck from traveling with head up and back hollowed. Vet cleared sound, teeth and feet are good, western saddle fits well and is being monitored as we improve conditioning.
Time, time and time.
Your horse has had 11 years of building muscle in the wrong places. That is not quickly undone!

My horse Dexter very much has upside-down muscle in his neck. However, he surprisingly is super athletic and quick even with his head in the air, so he has learned to adapt well. (Can even do flying lead changes with ease with his head sky high. shrugs shoulders ) But just takes time, and patience and riding and teach him to put his head in a better place. I certainly don't expect him to carry his head in a western pleasure headset as that is unrealistic for his conformation, but he can still learn to engage his body better and have his head in a more neutral position.
 
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