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  1. #1
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    Sep. 12, 2008
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    Question Bringing Head Down?

    When my horse came to me green she held her head up with her neck bulging out in front. I lunged her in side reins to help build up the correct muscle & balance, then began riding her in draw reins to put light pressure on her poll when needed.

    Once she got the idea (& muscled up), we graduated to using martingale forks to gently remind her to carry her head & neck rounded and relaxed. All this over the course of 3-4 years. We were doing great.

    Then we started taking lessons. The instructor suggested I remove the forks. (and also to lighten up on the reins when we canter) I've ridden her 2 weeks now without the forks and she was ok, but gradually I could feel her losing contact with the bit and going off balance.

    Last ride whenever I asked her to canter, she THREW her face up so high I could see her entire blaze! It was if she had forgotten that she could round into the canter, not jump into it.

    Today I'm going to put the forks back on to "remind" her she can balance with her head down. But do you have any opinions or suggestions as to what I might be doing wrong?



  2. #2
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    Dec. 7, 2010
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    Western New York
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    I suggest speaking with your trainer. What exactly are you trying to get your horse to do? If you are going to rely on training aids to fix a problem, it will bever be fixed correctly. Your horse needs to learn to accept contact, become round and work from inside leg to outside rein.
    Don't squat with yer spurs on

    Port of Call "Cruise" 3/4 Thoroughbred -1/4 Clyde 4/15/98-3/1/12 RIP my handsome boy



  3. #3
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    Mar. 5, 2009
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    Chicago, IL
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    I agree with Crusiesmom... The problem was never fixed, just patched by forcing the horse to put its "head down" that is not collection. Collection starts from an active hind end driving up through the back and into the hand, not from the hand back to the hind, which is all the gadgets really did for you.
    Welcome to my dressage world http://www.juliefranzen.blogspot.com/



  4. #4
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    Oct. 20, 2007
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    What kind of draw reins put pressure on the poll?



  5. #5
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    Oct. 16, 2008
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    Central Oklahoma
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    Quote Originally Posted by TikiSoo View Post
    Last ride whenever I asked her to canter, she THREW her face up so high I could see her entire blaze! It was if she had forgotten that she could round into the canter, not jump into it.
    Hate to say this. But you have been riding her in draw reins and then martingale for years, and now you expect her Not to throw her head up? - sort of expecting sun not to come up from the east you know...

    You need to find a good trainer to put you both back on track. Unfortunately I think you will have a long long difficult road ahead of you, much harder than if you had gone another path all those years ago... because now you will have to undo all the bad things the perpetual draw reins/martingale have done for both of you...

    Don't have any good suggestion... I don't envy your position...



  6. #6
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    Dec. 30, 2009
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    Agree with the above posts.

    Sounds like your mare, while maintaining the frame you wanted and keeping her head down, was not truly working from behind and lifting at the base of her neck. If she were working correctly from behind, rounding her back, and lifting at the base of her neck, her head would naturally fall into place. Now that you've removed the training aids, the false frame she was being forced to hold has gradually come undone because it is not natural to her. The ultimate solution is to ride her inside leg to outside rein, following the Training Scale (developing relaxation, rhythm, suppleness to start!!!) and using progressive exercises and patterns that teach her to increasingly engage. Start developing relaxation and suppleness, and rhythm will come. With that, your mare will start picking up the bit and initiating contact with your hands, especially as you develop impulsion. Straightness ensues and collection progresses.

    Keep in mind now you've built up incorrect muscling, so personally I would do a lot of strengthening work on loose contact first - long and loose work that includes developing relaxation and suppleness. Long loopy circles and circular patterns, transitions, in addition to developing PUSHING (impulsion) power - ground poles, hills, spiraling circles, etc. As she loses the improper muscle tone and starts building abs and topline in the right places, you can increasingly ask her to develop CARRYING power - self-carriage. Developing the correct pushing power though will take MONTHS at minimum (longer, because now you have to undo all the muscling she has, so give it a good year or more). She needs to develop the pushing power in her hind though FIRST because you need something from behind to generate the appropriate energy for carrying power, to flow through the horse from tail to nose.

    Circles work to strengthen and engage because the horse is forced to step beneath themselves as they balance. So if you use progressive circular exercises, the horse increasingly starts to work from behind, and you can refine that with your aids. A good exercise book I always recommend is Progressive Schooling Exercises for Dressage & Jumping (Islay Auty). So is 101 Dressage Exercises.

    Lastly, take note of your hands. Your aids should only ever be guiding and supportive, they should NEVER be forcing your horse into a specific frame. The head will reflect what the rest of the body is doing, so if your mare's head is flung up she will be inverted and she is TENSE. Hence the need to develop relaxation. As you develop relaxation and suppleness, that head comes down as the entire spine (down to the tail - the tail is an excellent indicator!) relaxes and supples. Then as the horse increasingly works from behind, the front end lifts as the hind loads (carries), the back rounds, and the base of the neck is lifted, and the head drops into its ultimate proper place. As the degree of collection increases and the horse develops strength, the poll becomes the highest point.

    Throughout all this, your hands must be SOFT. They open and close, but they never pull back. GUIDING only. The fact that your horse threw her head up so high that you could see her entire blaze makes me think your hands were hard (what kind of bit do you use??), else she would have only thrown it up to a lesser extent.

    Hopefully this all makes sense, but I highly suggest a) you read some good classical books (Tug of War by Dr. Gerd Heuschmann is a good and easy read on the biomechanics of the horse) and b) get yourself a good classical coach, if you want to do this right.

    Good luck
    ....horses should be trained in such a way that they not only love their riders, but look forward to the time they are with them.
    ~ Xenophon, 350 B.C.



  7. #7
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    Oct. 30, 2009
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    You need to remember that horses learn from release of pressure, not the pressure itself. When the head comes up you need to keep your legs on and hold contact. Don't pull, just hold. It's ugly and umcomfortable for her. Any sign (even for a second) lowering of the head and rising of the withers should be met with a slight release on your part. Timing is im0portant. Don't throw the reins away. Allow her to take as much rein as she will while keeping the "feel" of her mouth. She should learn that when she lengthens and lowers she gets release. That is her reward. JMHO.



  8. #8
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    Dec. 2, 2010
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    I have an Arab mare that -- all her life -- would run around head high & developed a very upside down neck. When I first started to train her to frame up & accept contact, we hit a lot of obstacles. I did put her in a German Martingale for a while to strengthen her neck muscles, but when we removed it, she would still try to evade, evade, evade. The things that worked for us were what CFFarm said -- maintain the contact when she throws her head up even if you feel ridiculous following your hands up that high!

    Also, PUSH. It took me a while to get the fact that I had to push her hind end to get her into the contact versus just concentrate on her head. One of the best bits of advice I ever got was - ride the horse you WISH you had! If you focus too hard on the head, you'll forget to engage the rest of the body, so get her really working from behind & the head will come!



  9. #9
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    Jun. 23, 2006
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    Quote Originally Posted by lbw25 View Post
    -- maintain the contact when she throws her head up even if you feel ridiculous following your hands up that high!
    This ^^^ When the head goes up, hands go up, always keeping a straight line of contact from your elbows to the bit. Keep a consistent elastic contact. I can't tell you how many people I see pulling down on the horses face to try and get the head down. It makes me want to reach up and jerk them off the horse. Keep the contact consistent and don't mess with the head. It will come with correct riding and conditioning.
    Boyle Heights Kid 1998 OTTB Dark Bay Gelding
    Tinner's Way x Sculpture by Hail to Reason
    "Once you go off track, you never go back!"



  10. #10
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    Jul. 11, 2009
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    New England
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    You horse has never learned to come on the bit properly. This is a common issue with people who truly do not understand dressage. People OBSESS over head position. YOU do not put a head in place, the body of the animal when ridden correctly will cause the head to "hang" correctly from the muscles attaching to the neck at the pole. I'm sorry to say but your horse was never ridden correctly, she needs to be started over FROM SCRATCH just like an unbacked three year old.



  11. #11
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    Aug. 28, 2007
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    Quote Originally Posted by RougeEmpire View Post
    You horse has never learned to come on the bit properly. This is a common issue with people who truly do not understand dressage. People OBSESS over head position. YOU do not put a head in place, the body of the animal when ridden correctly will cause the head to "hang" correctly from the muscles attaching to the neck at the pole. I'm sorry to say but your horse was never ridden correctly, she needs to be started over FROM SCRATCH just like an unbacked three year old.
    Yep, I'd go so far as to say turn her out for a few months before you start over.
    you traded an "ugly" evasion for a "prettier" one that still makes Dressage peeps throw up a little, but fools many just looking for head set.
    www.destinationconsensusequus.com
    chaque pas est fait ensemble



  12. #12
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    Mar. 26, 2006
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    On top of the excellent advice already given, I wanted to add one more thing about rider position.

    You're going to have to get strong enough so that no matter what she does, YOU STAY THE SAME. She's going to have to re-learn balancing, and you need to give her a steady giving contact so she understands where the "happy place" is.

    This means lots of work with your core to anchor your seat and allow your hands to be soft.

    This is tough. I am still working on it. Having a good trainer on the ground will help immensely.



  13. #13
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    Agree with above, and just wanted to add, your training forks and draw reins didn't work by putting pressure on her poll, they worked by dropping pressure down on her bars. Rather than learning to stretch into contact, pushing her pole forward to create a long and strong back, she has been contracting away from the pain of the bar pressure and has had a tense back. Once you took them off she realized she could release the tension in her jaw/neck/back by flipping up her head.

    If a horse like that came to me for training, I would likely tell the owner to give the horse some time off to let the bad muscles relax/soften, and I would do some massage or TTouch work to soften the muscles that have been held in tension, and to reaquaint her with the muscles she should be using. Often horses ridden in a contracted frame get very hard muscles at the base of their neck, just in front of the withers/shoulder. It is very hard for them to learn to stretch into contact while those muscles are still hard/tense. TMJ is also common with horses being ridden off of bar pressure.



  14. #14
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    Apr. 1, 2003
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    Quote Originally Posted by TikiSoo View Post
    ...Last ride whenever I asked her to canter, she THREW her face up so high I could see her entire blaze! ... But do you have any opinions or suggestions as to what I might be doing wrong?
    First, as suggested, start with the rear end. (Snaffle bit, no gadgets.)

    Even if a horse is "running" they can be "behind the leg". So suggest moving riders legs be placed "back" a bit and, starting at the walk, activate her hind legs.

    Here's where it gets tricky - using your legs constantly will dull her to the leg, so (at walk) I alternate using my legs. When left hind starts to be picked up off the ground I use my left leg, vice versa with the right hind. Only works as leg is being lifted off the ground and leg is NOT weighted. Goal is horse steps more underneath their body with that hind leg.

    Do both sides (for a few strides) then quiet legs while still allowing/ encouraging her forward. At the same time you want the reins a bit longer than usual and encourage her to round over her topline (not JUST bend at the poll) - working slowly to get more of a long and low position.

    Here's where it is tricky again. Long and low doesn't mean peanut roll - nose on ground. It means ARCH in neck, light contact with reins while marching forward at whatever gait you ask her for - can be done for W/T/C.

    If she doesn't want to bring her head down you can do this - slight bend inside with rein, immediately followed by inside rein back to normal position while at same time taking up more outside rein, then as outside rein returns to normal soften and with your body encourage her forward to follow the reins forward - all the while retaining the neck arch.

    Never hold the rein bend - its a very quick (but NOT tug) ask then release - as you don't want to tech her to hold against the rider.

    Once you can get a long and low then EVERY time her head starts getting high in the least ask for the long and low. After about 6 months of this then she'll have the muscle to maintain it (i.e. topline muscle) and head raising will occur less often. When it does (at that point) instead of going back to Long and Low you should be able to do a simple Inside/outside/forward (as described above) to get her head/neck and back realigned and in the proper working position.

    Do not be afraid that L&L for 6 months will want her to always go that way. After 6 months she'll be happy to raise her head to a more normal working position - just not inverted this time if you've done your homework correctly.
    Sandy in Fla.



  15. #15
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    Mar. 8, 2009
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    I think you should continue te dressage lessons and have your trainer ride your horse as well an show you what needs to be done.

    Martingale, draw reins, side reins and all those aids can be usefull sometimes but not on the long run. One need to understand correctly how each device work and know how to use them effectively because if not, the result won't be the one been looking for and the problem will remain.
    Horses don't learn over time to put their head in a 'frame' just because they've been 'attached' all these years if there is no real training behind the tools.

    I re-trained a big inverted horse. Took few sessions to 'bring' his head down then it took me a year to bring it 'level' and muscled at that 'position' and truly pushing from behind. At the end he was even lowering the hauches. So it CAN be done.

    Good luck and throw this martigale away!



  16. #16
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    Apr. 25, 2007
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    What NATURALEQUUS said!!!!! and barring any ill fitted tack,bad rider position/skills or unsoundness, that method she gave you will work every time!!!
    "Success comes in cans, not in cannots!"



  17. #17
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    Jun. 7, 2006
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    You just need to learn how to ride your horse into a correct contact. However, that is a very loaded "just" in that sentence because in all honesty it is HARD to learn. People work for years and years on it. It is why such a huge percentage of riders never get past First Level. The draws and martingales have allowed you to make pretend all this time without really learning it, but don't feel bad because a lot of people aren't any better off than you, they just have a horse that is less obvious about it.

    It is pretty much impossible to learn how to do it right by trying to teach yourself on your own. You will also not learn it by turning your horse out in the pasture awhile (???) and trying to magically divine it from the fence line.

    The only way to do it is to take lots of lessons from a good instructor and buckle down and come back week after week after week. Your instructor sounds like she has you on the right track so listen to what SHE says and she will show you the way.



  18. #18
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    Sep. 12, 2008
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    Wow! Thanks for all the great advice!! I am humbled and embarrassed.


    To clarify: I'm not riding her with "pressure aids" to create a headset. I'm trying to teach her to keep her topline rounded for better balance. She's a heavy downhill built QH with a hollow back. I'm trying to build her up so she doesn't suffer from years of poor posture.

    Most likely, you're all correct that she wasn't truly balanced, although she is definitely improving. And I'm not the greatest rider, which is exactly why I'm taking lessons! She is actually pretty sensitive and my hands are often at the buckle using just a gentle twist of the wrist as "reminders".

    Lunging her in side reins was an excersize used in her first year (with me) to help build the muscle needed to keep her balanced.
    Year two I used "draw reins" while riding.
    I made these like a bridle supplement: they laid under the bridle at the poll, looped through the bit ring (a plain snaffle) to my hand like double reins. When she would jerk her chin out, I'd squeeze the draw rein to put gentle pressure on her poll. Really, I'm pretty light handed, except I didn't "pump" at the canter. (she needs the entire rein)
    This past year, I've used loose forks in much the same way and I agreed with the trainer it should be about time to see how well she'd do without them.

    She arches and bends quite well, despite my weaknesses. But she hasn't developed that "pushing" power naturalequus (great post!) was talking about. And the slower she goes, the better she is. The first stride into the canter she threw her head up and just about launched into it like a greenie.

    I was shocked when she threw her head up like that, but she can be a "testing teenager" at times. Seems we've hit a plateau, the big reason we're taking lessons.



  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by TikiSoo View Post
    using just a gentle twist of the wrist as "reminders".
    ...
    Really, I'm pretty light handed, except I didn't "pump" at the canter.

    She arches and bends quite well, despite my weaknesses. But she hasn't developed that "pushing" power naturalequus (great post!) was talking about. And the slower she goes, the better she is. The first stride into the canter she threw her head up and just about launched into it like a greenie.
    TikiSoo- Are you still a hunter rider, or have you recently switched over to dressage? your terminology sounds like a hunter rider.

    Biggest clue is that bending wrist comment. That sends chills down dressage riders spines... and frankly a bent wrist only induces evasion and headset in a horse because there can't be true connection.

    People will understand how to better help you if they get an idea of what dressage basics you know (if that zero, that's fine!). Right now you are speaking "hunter" which tells me we other posters need to start at ground zero for you.

    Is your instructor a dressage or hunter instructor? What are your goals?
    www.destinationconsensusequus.com
    chaque pas est fait ensemble



  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Petstorejunkie View Post
    TikiSoo- Are you still a hunter rider, or have you recently switched over to dressage? your terminology sounds like a hunter rider.


    No, it does not. It sounds like a poorly educated rider. Since you obviously have no idea what you're talking about, perhaps you should keep the "hunter rider" comments to yourself. Hunter riders know how to ride their horses from back to front just like dressage riders - we don't like a false frame any more than you do.



    People will understand how to better help you if they get an idea of what dressage basics you know (if that zero, that's fine!). Right now you are speaking "hunter" which tells me we other posters need to start at ground zero for you.
    Hunter riders understand dressage basics just fine, thank you. I have ridden almost exclusively hunters and yet still managed to land a job working for a BN(Dressage)R in Holland.

    Please, stop demonstrating your ignorance of other disciplines. It's offensive.

    OP, you sound like you haven't had much experience riding english and it sounds like you are unclear as to the mechanics that create a "frame". In order to have a correct "frame", the horse must be traveling forward - as the horse steps underneath itself, the energy moves forward through the back and into the bridle. It's the forward moving energy that creates the "frame" (which is actually tail to poll, not just in the neck), not any sort of fiddling with the head.
    Last edited by SaturdayNightLive; Apr. 21, 2011 at 09:21 PM.
    "Are you yawning? You don't ride well enough to yawn. I can yawn, because I ride better than you. Meredith Michael Beerbaum can yawn. But you? Not so much..."
    -George Morris



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