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  1. #1
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    Oct. 25, 2008
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    Default Suggestions re: getting my horse's head down?

    I'd like some input re: an issue I'm having with my boy... he's a coming-6 OTTB, very sweet and quiet in all regards. We do a lot of trail-riding, flat-work, and some jumping; we're currently doing schooling ahows over 18" courses, schooling occasional 2' jumps and just starting over some low XC jumps out on the trails. I don't foresee us ever going over 2'6"; I'm just not that interested in more than 2'6", and he toes out in front (although that's never posed any issues for him so far; I keep him in splint boots just in case), so I don't care to push him higher.

    He's super-willing, not spooky, and has a great want-to-please attitude, but I'm having problems encouraging him to drop his head. In the ring, he goes rather hollow-backed... out on the trails, he uses his back and engages much more. I currently ride him in a French Link and regular noseband; I've tried a Kimberwicke with him, but that just seems to make him even more giraffe-y. Aside from the Kimberwicke and FL, we've also tried a plain snaffle and corkscrew snaffle (when he was going through a pushy phase last fall); he goes the best in the FL.

    I have a surcingle and side reins, which I probably need to start using and longeing more; I think I should also be doing more trot poles. I'm also planning on getting him chiro'ed within the next couple of weeks, just in case (although he doesn't seem ouchy anywhere along his back). Vet is due to float his teeth sometime this spring.

    Is there aything else I can be doing? Different bit I can try? I've been considering a martingale, but I haven't used them in eons (not since I was taking lessons as a teenager; I'm 33 now) and I don't know a whole lot about them. Standing? Running? I'd prefer not to over-tack him to fix this problem, so I don't want to go the draw-rein route.

    Any advice is appreciated. Thanks!



  2. #2
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    Nov. 20, 2008
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    Quote Originally Posted by cnvh View Post
    I'd like some input re: an issue I'm having with my boy... he's a coming-6 OTTB, very sweet and quiet in all regards. We do a lot of trail-riding, flat-work, and some jumping; we're currently doing schooling ahows over 18" courses, schooling occasional 2' jumps and just starting over some low XC jumps out on the trails. I don't foresee us ever going over 2'6"; I'm just not that interested in more than 2'6", and he toes out in front (although that's never posed any issues for him so far; I keep him in splint boots just in case), so I don't care to push him higher.

    He's super-willing, not spooky, and has a great want-to-please attitude, but I'm having problems encouraging him to drop his head. In the ring, he goes rather hollow-backed... out on the trails, he uses his back and engages much more. I currently ride him in a French Link and regular noseband; I've tried a Kimberwicke with him, but that just seems to make him even more giraffe-y. Aside from the Kimberwicke and FL, we've also tried a plain snaffle and corkscrew snaffle (when he was going through a pushy phase last fall); he goes the best in the FL.

    I have a surcingle and side reins, which I probably need to start using and longeing more; I think I should also be doing more trot poles. I'm also planning on getting him chiro'ed within the next couple of weeks, just in case (although he doesn't seem ouchy anywhere along his back). Vet is due to float his teeth sometime this spring.

    Is there aything else I can be doing? Different bit I can try? I've been considering a martingale, but I haven't used them in eons (not since I was taking lessons as a teenager; I'm 33 now) and I don't know a whole lot about them. Standing? Running? I'd prefer not to over-tack him to fix this problem, so I don't want to go the draw-rein route.

    Any advice is appreciated. Thanks!
    There are no quick fixes to this and the use of gadgets to force his head down is not a good idea, particularly for a young horse just starting his training (properly adjusted side reins attached AFTER the horse is warmed up do not count as gadgets but a martingale, particularly standing does count). More severe bitting is also not going to help.

    You stated the issue in your post -- it's not bringing his head down, it is getting him to relax in the arena so that his back stays supple and he moves from his hind end. If he is doing this, his head will naturally come down. The best thing you can do is work with a qualified trainer and be prepared for this to take time and not be instantaneous or even close to.



  3. #3
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    Jul. 22, 2007
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    Sevendogs is right. No quick fix and he needs to learn to relax. Being off the track the harder you pull the harder he's going to pull back.

    Need forward and light hands. Equipment only works while its on, and as soon as you take it off his head will go right back up again so save yourself the time and frustration. Watch somebody ride who has a nice headset and then pick their brain if you can't afford lessons. Otherwise, find somebody to help. And please get somebody who understands TB's. I had a trainer once who didn't, and she set me back quite a bit before I finally figured it out - big lesson learned.

    Good luck. He just needs to learn how much nicer it is when everybody cooperates.



  4. #4
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    Jan. 11, 2006
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    when I retrain my OTTB's (my sister is a racehorse trainer so I get a bunch of them) I first get them going good moving off of my leg. once they are moving off of my leg I do circles with them, I will tip their nose to the inside and use my inside leg, this bends them around my leg,I use my outside leg to keep them moving and eventually they will start to drop their nose in and the neck follows. Once they give a little I give a little as a reward. I do this at the walk until they are comfortable, then move to the trot. pretty soon, you will notice you will be doing bigger and bigger circles and they are bending and dropping their head and neck for you. I don't use any martingales or draw reins, don't feel safe with them. I use a plain snaffle also. So far this has worked on every one of the TB along with my QH and Paints. I teach my riding students this also so they don't get into the habit of some "trainers" who overbit and yank and pull on the horse to get it to submit the "not nice" way if you know what I mean. They end up with happier horses who bend, flex, and move nicely off of their leg so they have more control

    Hope this helps, it's hard to explain over the computer



  5. #5
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    Oct. 25, 2008
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    Quote Originally Posted by SevenDogs View Post
    There are no quick fixes to this and the use of gadgets to force his head down is not a good idea, particularly for a young horse just starting his training (properly adjusted side reins attached AFTER the horse is warmed up do not count as gadgets but a martingale, particularly standing does count). More severe bitting is also not going to help.

    You stated the issue in your post -- it's not bringing his head down, it is getting him to relax in the arena so that his back stays supple and he moves from his hind end. If he is doing this, his head will naturally come down. The best thing you can do is work with a qualified trainer and be prepared for this to take time and not be instantaneous or even close to.
    I don't know that it's a question of relaxing in the arena-- he seems much more relaxed in there than out on the trails; it's when he's a bit more "up" out on the trails that he gets under himself and uses his back and hindquarters much more. If only I could bottle that and uncork it inside the arena, haha...

    I need to get in the mindset of longeing more... it's laziness on my part. He doesn't need the longeing to get any excess eneergy out; he's very much a "throw on the saddle and go" kind of guy, and I only get out to ride 3 days a week. Two of those days are after work, so I don't always have a lot of time to spend with him; I'd rather be riding out with our group of trail riders than staying back to longe. (I know, bad mom. )



  6. #6
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    Oct. 8, 2002
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    Maryland
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    Forward, lots of bending, soft hands, and time

    Are you working with a trainer? Is said trainer riding the horse?

    Sometimes they "get it" very quickly, and other times they don't. Especially if they're coming off the track where they developed a totally different set of muscles, so the ones you need to relax are the muscles that are tight, and the ones you need to engage are the ones the horse doesn't have a lot of.

    One guy I was riding recently seemed to benefit a lot from on the ground stretching. Back raises/cat stretches, and leg stretches (for the shoulder, and the hamstrings, especially. Carrot stretches too. He couldn't do them at all when we started, and as he became more flexible, he simultaneously seemed to start to understand how to stretch under saddle too. Never for very long, maybe a stride or two, but you have to start somewhere.
    "smile a lot can let us ride happy,it is good thing"

    My CANTER blog.



  7. #7
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    Oct. 25, 2008
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    What I usually do with just about any horse I ride-- and what I was trained to do way back when-- is to do a little right-left, right-left squeezing of the reins, and when they drop, release to reward. That's never failed to work for me, until now-- but then again this is the greenest horse I've dealt with. I don't think he understands what I'm asking.

    I don't think this guy is a textbook OTTB... he's NOT very hot at all, really quite mellow. I can-- and often do-- trot him on a completely loose rein for a few laps around the ring, trying to see if he'll find his own balance and start to drop a little. He keeps the same quiet pace, but still with the head up. It doesn't matter what the gait; I can ride on light contact or no contact and he doesn't speed up.

    I also do mainly posting trot, very little seated trot... I wonder if this makes a difference?



  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by cnvh View Post
    I don't think this guy is a textbook OTTB... he's NOT very hot at all, really quite mellow. I can-- and often do-- trot him on a completely loose rein for a few laps around the ring, trying to see if he'll find his own balance and start to drop a little.
    Lots of OTTBs are mellow (so is the guy I was talking about, and all the others I've ridden, heh.) That doesn't mean they have lots of muscle flexibility or the ability to lift their back so they can stretch down and out to the bit

    As far as how you're asking, that's not how I was taught though I probably do it sometimes. I try to keep contact consistent- especially in the outside rein. No matter where the head goes, I try to keep the pressure of contact exactly the same. The inside rein, I will vary a little bit, but mostly I try to keep as consistent as possible (which I fail at all the time, because I forget to close my fingers). As a horse starts to stretch, I do give a little, but don't release completely- I just follow the head down with my hands (er, I try to, I should say).

    Be patient, and I think it also helps to stop thinking about "getting the head down" so much- instead think about loosening up his body and getting him engaged and using his back. I find if I focus on the front end too much I tend to get entirely too handsy, and also tend to forget things about my riding (if I'm focusing on the head, I tend to lean forward too much, and look down, stupid things like that which actually make the problem worse).
    "smile a lot can let us ride happy,it is good thing"

    My CANTER blog.



  9. #9

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    Repeat after me...'It's not about the head!"
    Get him moving forward into 'soft hands' and he will reach for the bit...yes, ground poles will help-because they make them use their hind end and encourage them to 'look' at the poles (dropping their head), but if you simply push him forward everytime he raises his head, that will help. DO NOT move your hands around, do not take a hard grip-he must 'want' to go forward.
    Equine Massage Therapy Classes and Rehab for Horses
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  10. #10
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    Nov. 2, 2006
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    If he is hollow in the back, no amount of fussing with your hands is going to bring him round- think about the shape of a horse, now think about a hollow back--by the very physics of it, he can't lower his head if his back is u'd...you need to get him to lift his back, bring his hind end underneath him so he physically can bring his head down.

    If you are going to lunge him, work on getting a very very slow trot- think western pleasure trot- this helps them to build the abs and back muscles that are needed to get a long and low frame. Also work on frequent transitions. Walk- trot, trot- canter, this will help him to use his hind end and get his mind focusing on listening to you.

    I know you said he is "higher" on the trail - but I would imagine that he is probably a bit bored in the ring. Most horses are more excited when out on the trail- it's more fun for them . My horse is like a grand prix dressage horse on the trail- beautiful collection, extension - frustrating isn't it? So by doing this, you are establishing that in the ring he is to listen to you. Be sure you are consistent in the words or sounds that you use for the transitions- (I use a cluck for trot a kiss for canter, and for downward transitions I use to word) and establish an "easy" or what ever word you want for a slower trot. Also, this is a good time to build a rock solid stop- "Whoa! Ho!" what ever you want, but it is said strong and should get immediate stop (give a step or two they are big bodied).


    Also, if you have access to a hill, ride him up and down the hill.
    Last edited by gloriginger; Mar. 16, 2009 at 12:32 PM.



  11. #11
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    If you are interested, here is some information from Mark Rashid:

    Rashid describes horses as having two "circles of energy", one starting at the back feet, ... continues on around the shoulder and back down to the ground. ... The horse who flips his head, pushes on the bit, or does not stop is ...

    The rest of the article: Article
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  12. #12
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    Oct. 25, 2008
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    Quote Originally Posted by gloriginger View Post
    Also, if you have access to a hill, ride him up and down the hill.
    Fortunately my barn sits on 300 acres and has LOTS of hills... we've just been waiting for longer daylight and for the ground to dry up a bit, which fortunately is starting to happen-- so we're JUST getting back out on the trails again. I'm hoping to try fox hunting with him this fall, so we have lots and lots of hills and trot sets planned for the next few months.

    He really is an amazing boy; he's got a great attitude and he tries his hardest, so I'm sure we'll get this eventually. 99% of the time I only have to THINK transitions and he's there. We're working on getting downward transitions from the seat and not the reins; he's grasping that concept pretty well.

    I've been riding since I was 5 (I'm 33 now), but most of that has been on schoolies; he's only my second horse. My first was an older OTTB who was schooled through 3rd level dressage, so I learned way more from that horse than I ever taught him! So I know where I want to go, I'm just not entirely clear on how to get there. Regular lessons really aren't in my budget at the moment but I'm going to end up doing some here and there as I can afford them.

    Thanks everyone for your input, you've all given me lots of ideas. More are welcomed!



  13. #13
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    Jan. 2, 2008
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    Quote Originally Posted by qhgal View Post
    when I retrain my OTTB's (my sister is a racehorse trainer so I get a bunch of them) I first get them going good moving off of my leg. once they are moving off of my leg I do circles with them, I will tip their nose to the inside and use my inside leg, this bends them around my leg,I use my outside leg to keep them moving and eventually they will start to drop their nose in and the neck follows. Once they give a little I give a little as a reward. I do this at the walk until they are comfortable, then move to the trot. pretty soon, you will notice you will be doing bigger and bigger circles and they are bending and dropping their head and neck for you. I don't use any martingales or draw reins, don't feel safe with them. I use a plain snaffle also. So far this has worked on every one of the TB along with my QH and Paints. I teach my riding students this also so they don't get into the habit of some "trainers" who overbit and yank and pull on the horse to get it to submit the "not nice" way if you know what I mean. They end up with happier horses who bend, flex, and move nicely off of their leg so they have more control

    Hope this helps, it's hard to explain over the computer
    This works! My 12 yo OTTB (never had alot of training, I got her two years ago after she spent alot of time in pasture) will really drop her head and round beautifully with a simple snaffle and the above technique. Now I just need the time and the patience to make this consistant.



  14. #14
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    Sep. 9, 2007
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    I am not a big fan of the gadgets that work the head down. I see people riding in draw reins all the time. Head is down in draw reins, draw reins go away and they come up.

    I wasted so many months trying it my way, and finally found a instructor that has really helped me. Granted it is a HOUR drive for me, but worth it.

    What she has us doing is circles, circles, and more circles. On the circle his head comes towards my knee, and my inside leg is pushing his hind end out. My outside leg is keeping him going, and my outside hand is keeping him from traveling to much.

    Two months of lessons and I have him giving to me better. I can feel a HUGE difference in his trot when his back is up. He pushes me up in my post. Not nearly the amount of work. OH and the first couple of times, your legs are GOING to hurt.



  15. #15
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    I struggled with that with my horse- lazing around the ring, nose poked out, fine. But when more forward- hollow, head up, rush. It was literally months of trotting, doing serpentines, circles, changes on the diagonal, small circles, big circles. Just rides that were literally 15 minutes of trotting figures and getting her to accept leg and not rush off and bend both ways and keep a steady tempo. If she would drop her head, big praise and a return to the exercise that made her drop it. The first time was a step or two, then half a circle and so on and so on. You can't hold their head down or clamp on the reins. When she picks up her head, i circle and apply inside leg- the inside leg drops the head. The inside leg lifts the back which drops the head.

    It takes a long time to the develop the muscle and trust. I can get lovely work out of her- stretching down to the bit and using her back and butt now- but it requires a good bit of warm up. I think it is a lot of work and you can probably sour them very quickly by forcing it and allowing them to discover ways of faking it- the head tuck!

    I've ridden a lot of horses that do the "head tuck"- riding a horse truly stretching and cycling the energy is way different- it's like you are floating and can suddenly place your horse anywhere. You feel it in your seat- the back rising beneath you.

    I think you need to think of allowing those steps, then encouraging them.



  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by magnolia73 View Post

    I've ridden a lot of horses that do the "head tuck"- riding a horse truly stretching and cycling the energy is way different- it's like you are floating and can suddenly place your horse anywhere. You feel it in your seat- the back rising beneath you.
    I know exactly what you mean by that feeling... when it's right, it's RIGHT, like "better-than-sex" right.

    I'm definitely not expecting "collection" at this point, but I feel like he needs to be dropping his head and neck in order to start working and strengthening those back muscles... THAT'S what I'm working towards right now. (Not that anyone confuses it by thinking I'm looking to create piaffe and passage anytime soon, haha...)

    The circles and serpentines work makes perfect sense, and that's not something we do enough of. Will start that tonight!



  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by qhgal View Post
    when I retrain my OTTB's (my sister is a racehorse trainer so I get a bunch of them) I first get them going good moving off of my leg. once they are moving off of my leg I do circles with them, I will tip their nose to the inside and use my inside leg, this bends them around my leg,I use my outside leg to keep them moving and eventually they will start to drop their nose in and the neck follows. Once they give a little I give a little as a reward. I do this at the walk until they are comfortable, then move to the trot. pretty soon, you will notice you will be doing bigger and bigger circles and they are bending and dropping their head and neck for you. I don't use any martingales or draw reins, don't feel safe with them. I use a plain snaffle also. So far this has worked on every one of the TB along with my QH and Paints. I teach my riding students this also so they don't get into the habit of some "trainers" who overbit and yank and pull on the horse to get it to submit the "not nice" way if you know what I mean. They end up with happier horses who bend, flex, and move nicely off of their leg so they have more control

    Hope this helps, it's hard to explain over the computer
    I think you did an excellent job of explaining it More leg, less hand, bend, inside leg to outside rein. Wait.



  18. #18
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    I was privileged enough to take a flat lesson with Denny Emerson once and he had some interesting comments on the topic. One thing that I took away was that this is very hard work and repetitive and that very frequent changes of rein were needed to relieve the muscles on each side- ie, you are asking them to use their inside hind more, so break it up. I rarely do more than 2-3 circles without changing rein. It seems odd, but when working with Niki, she would be most likely to stretch and use her back during that transition to the new bend. If I would just keep circling, she'd just get stiffer, heavier, and hollow. Presumably she was getting fatigued.



  19. #19
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    I would also agree with qhgal, and the way she explained getting the horse circling. We do this a lot, came from Reining horse training, does an excellent job of head control, self carriage, on an animal of any breed.

    You are working horse from the hind, forward. He can't be doing good circles if he is not reaching forward with the rear legs. This helps lift and use his back well, both sides in circles each way. Round circles are the goal, not always nice in his first efforts, learning where to hold his neck and head. We may get some egg shapes, D shapes, but progress to round circles as he improves his responses in work. My goal is always to get him holding himself together, not hanging on my reins. Light in response to leg aid, weight shift, reins pulling or holding him in a circle by neck touch. The head carriage will come last, but will be most natural because CORRECT is the COMFORTABLE place to be.

    We have found the adding of gimmick, forks, sidereins, special bitting, always ADDS time before horse will find Correct location for head, by driving forward from behind. Soft hands, reward the forward, let him learn himself the best place to put his head and neck when reaching from behind. You help him by controlling the energy, compression of the power. Cadence doesn't change, but you are teaching his collection. More power pushing forward from behind, his head will be higher for balance, gaining suspension in air time. Less push from behind, less body compression, allows balance with head lower, less spring in his step, though still with good overstride.

    Head postion that is not forced, comes from behind, never the front end of horse. If you tie him together somehow, you lose fluidity, balance in other areas. I hate horses who hang on my hands after being forced to go in sidereins. Why should I be holding his head in place? He gets no reward from sidereins lunging, as he would from a soft rider or long-lining, instant release at correct. I know sidereins are highly revered, but we never use them. Learned better ways, so horse has no un-training to do.
    Last edited by goodhors; Mar. 16, 2009 at 02:08 PM.



  20. #20
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    Smile

    Quote Originally Posted by equinelaw View Post
    I think you did an excellent job of explaining it More leg, less hand, bend, inside leg to outside rein. Wait.


    Thank you! I do it all the time when I ride without thinking about it, but to type it.....



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