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Low Head Carriage in Western Riding ~ Why?

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  • Low Head Carriage in Western Riding ~ Why?

    hey, I'm new to coth and am wondering how to find posts (if any) about the low head carriage cultivated in western riding... i think it looks very unnatural and the impression it gives is that one can just dominate a horse's natural, proud posture and subjugate it to man's will... do you know, is there any actual real, good reason/purpose for forcing a horse to do that? i just think it looks sad!

    (i ride western, trail riding, now but was doing hunters for years...)

    thanks ~ Lydia lfbosley@q.com

  • #2
    ummm well the "proud posture" of a saddle horse/WB/arab is functionally different than a western horse...both conformationally and for working purposes

    in the same way that the elbow angle of an animal controls the stride of his front legs, the way the neck leaves thet should determines the natural position of a horses head...

    but I guess if you don't like it, you could use an over check to crank it up where you think it should be

    Tamara
    Production Acres,Pro A Welsh Cobs
    I am one of the last 210,000 remaining full time farmers in America.We feed the others.

    Comment

    • Original Poster

      #3
      Explain?

      Hi Tamara ~ I'd love to hear your ideas on how the low head carriage is functional for a western horse... I can see that in cutting, for example, the horse would keep its head low to confront the cow/steer, but in simply say trail riding, again, what purpose does it serve? I have never seen a horse, QH or otherwise, which naturally carries its head that way without being trained to do so... and btw I am sincerely curious, hoping to learn and understand why this is done... not simply being critical (re your comment "if you don't like it, crank it up...etc." the tone of that seems rather unfriendly)

      Comment


      • #4
        I believe you will only find it in the western show ring; folks who ride western for functional reasons, be it trail riding, ranch work, etc, do not do that.

        My conspiracy theory on the "bizare" western pleasure look is that the trainer/judges (most of the judges are also trainers) had to develop a difficult manner for the horses that the average joe would have trouble training. That way you have to hire the trainer/judge to teach your horse to "wog" (the show ring jog where they walk with one set of legs and jog with the other) and "trope."

        So unless you are riding in breed shows, you should not have to worry about this. If you are, you either pick judges who do not reward this (good luck) or just show naturally and not worry about ribbons/points/awards!!!
        Appy Trails,
        Kathy, Cadet & CCS Silinde
        member VADANoVA www.vadanova.org

        Comment


        • #5
          how about "if a little bit is good, a lot must be better"? The natural head set of the western breeds is a lot lower than a TB or many other breeds, it's what works for them in their activities (cow work, roping, ranch work) and that is the basis for showing western pleasure horses (just as hunters derive from fox hunting). Of course both disciplines are so far removed from their origins as to be giggle-worthy, but that is the basis for the head set. Then you add in the very human fault of "if some is good, more must be better" and you start finding a race to the extremes. In the case of WP, the extreme is a much lower headset and a much slower jog/lope than you ever saw when I rode WP in the late 70's and early 80's (never mind back when they really were more connected to their roots in the 50's and 60's).

          Every discipline out there is guilty of the behavior in one way or another (what with humans being involved and what not).
          Your crazy is showing. You might want to tuck that back in.

          Comment


          • #6
            Thanks for asking Lydia. I have wondered this too! Not sure I would like feeling like the horse was disappearing underneath me. :/

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Lydia Bosley View Post
              Hi Tamara ~ I'd love to hear your ideas on how the low head carriage is functional for a western horse... I can see that in cutting, for example, the horse would keep its head low to confront the cow/steer, but in simply say trail riding, again, what purpose does it serve? I have never seen a horse, QH or otherwise, which naturally carries its head that way without being trained to do so... and btw I am sincerely curious, hoping to learn and understand why this is done... not simply being critical (re your comment "if you don't like it, crank it up...etc." the tone of that seems rather unfriendly)
              everything really western is done low and long...cattle work and long distance riding, riding in brush to move cattle, and just well everything

              now perhaps you are calling show ring "western pleasure"
              western riding and just don't know any better...

              functionally if a horse goes forward in a round way** the "going forward energy" goes back to the back end is re captured and goes forward again...

              while the dressage folks like to claim this "round" as their own it is the basis of all riding that does not involve (as my long time friend Tom Stovall calls) "foot waving", where the energy from the back is lost and "slung out" thru the front feet or worse a stiff braced high headed upside down neck.

              energy the horse can re-use thru being "round" is less energy he needs to recreate from the air

              ** this having various levels but is basically the smooth connection from his mouth to his hind foot

              Tamara
              Production Acres,Pro A Welsh Cobs
              I am one of the last 210,000 remaining full time farmers in America.We feed the others.

              Comment


              • #8
                Well, a stock horse has a lower natural headset than other breeds in the way that the neck is attached to the body - ie: where it leaves the chest and wither area.

                The natural head carriage of a stock horse is going to be around level with it's withers - that's just how they are conformed.

                TB's, Saddlebreds, Morgans, Tennessee Walkers, Arabians, etc. have a higher natural head set, based on the same conformational qualities that makes the others low.

                Also, a horse traveling with a lower headset is indicative of a horse that is relaxed and obedient, the western pleasure people just took that concept to an extreme.

                For example, my TWH's neck is placed much higher than my QH, but even when he is relaxed on the trail he will carry his head at or below level with his withers.

                As is said quite often in horses, "It depends".

                Comment


                • #9
                  I am assuming you are talking about the below the withers carriage seen in the Western Pleasure show ring? I cannot speak to that since I am not a fan either.

                  However, to compare the headsets of a QH, Paint, App etc... to an arabian, TWH or Saddlebred is unfair. They each have their own carriage based on conformation rather than training. My paint carries his head naturally level with the withers. His headset is low when compared to an arabian but it is not unnatural for him. He does it in the pasture, and while being ridden unless I collect him. He was not trained this way, it is just him. In the American Stock Horse Shows a head carriage that is level with the withers is desired to show a relaxed horse. Again it is not trained it is natural. As Tamara stated, conformation and discipline create different headsets.

                  Here is an explanation of Ranch Pleasure (not typical western pleasure!) with a few pictures to demonstrate what I am talking about
                  http://stock-horse.com/?page_id=31

                  By the way, I think my horse is still proud even though his head is not in the sky andhe was not dominated to my will!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    What Char said.

                    Now, if you are speaking to 'show ring fads,' the peanut pusher WP 'look' is just that- no basis in functionality. I have beaten horses with that 'look,' starting in the 60s and as recently as early 2000s, with just a good ol' natural level headset on a QH that really does look to a judge like a pleasure to ride. So real horseman when judging can reach beyond fads!

                    But such quirks- 'style' for the show ring that has no 'real world' basis- exist in all show disciplines, really. For example, when was the last time you saw a Grand Prix dressage horse whose poll was its highest point, as per the rules? Or a show ring hunter going at something halfway approaching an honest foxhunting pace (as opposed to the moral equivalent of western pleasure lope). So- not really meaning to single out any disciplines- I simply observe that when it comes to showing, humans develop weird stuff. Up to and including you can't possibly win if your saddle doesn't have the right bling or if your clothes aren't just so.

                    If I have the time tonight, I will post a picture I have in mind. Actually it's already posted somewhere but I can't remember where...

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      many quarter horses and other stock horses are bred to have a natural even headset/ carriage, something really has to get their attention for them to look like a saddleseat horse.

                      also some horse like to mosey about with their head relaxed, my arab X saddlebred when walking on trail keeps his head a tad above wither height unless he sees a deer.

                      also for showing the ideal according to the rule book level from wither to poll with no lower than tips of the ears to withers, however finding competators to show that way and judges to judge that way can be hard, esp when the best mover may be on the low side

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        It was explained to me that a lower head carriage (within reason, so neutral for the breed) indicates relaxation through the horse's back and good natural impulsion. So, in addition to looking calm and obedient, it's supposed to give a smoother and more comfortable ride.

                        Showing, of course, went with "A little is good? A lot must be so much better!" and things quickly moved toward silly.
                        ---------------------------

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Burbank View Post
                          also for showing the ideal according to the rule book level from wither to poll with no lower than tips of the ears to withers, however finding competators to show that way and judges to judge that way can be hard, esp when the best mover may be on the low side
                          This is very true- I have placed higher than, and been beat by horses that remain true to this rule. It is really being enforced by many judges now. The super low head set is on its way out of the QH world. AQHA even released new videos last year showing what Judges are looking for in WP horses now- no more peanut rolling and all crab walky. more natural and slow. Some still are using old methods- but they are no longer winning all the time. (yes there are "old school" judges too.. but they are starting become fewer and fewer.)

                          The low head set is supposed to come from collection of the horse- but not collection through the face but by drawing up the horses barrel with your legs.

                          If you suck in your stomach, and round your back, where does your neck go?

                          By remaining collected, your horse doesn't look strung out. At almost every show, I hear someone say something about how unnatural our horses look with their heads down. I think the main issue here, is either these commenters have never ridden a pleasure QH before (they really can move beautifully under you!) or they have seen some seriously terrible methods to get a horses head down.

                          To me, your horse should be able to drop it's head through collection and engaging his hind end. If you are using your hands heavily at all, then you are probably far away from collection- and causing your horse a world of hurt.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            great answers by all..

                            on another forum, I posted a picture of..I beleive hollywood Dunnit and then a picture of one of predominent dressage stallions..their conformation is very different..espc the shoulder angle and WHERE the neck comes out of the shoulder..thus affecting where the horse naturally carries his head and neck.

                            the peanut rolling I am not speaking off..Im simply talking of the difference in natural headset.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Putting on my flame retardent suit:

                              The peanut rolling fad in Western Equitation is so that people can ride horses that move and look like mules, without actually riding a mule. (no offense meant to mules, who move that way because they're made that way)...
                              The best thing to do on a golf course is a GALLOP!

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                Rant Begin......
                                It would seem like a good idea to get rid of western pleasure in it's current form (peanut rolling, weird gaits such as four beat canter) in favor of ranch pleasure. Also I miss the trail classes of yore which are closest to the modern day ranch trail. I know I am riding the wrong horse (long legged OTTB) for the current trail classes (which at my local schooling show are said to be "english/western" but clearly favor the natural stride of the QH)- and don't seem to have much to do at all with what we encounter on the trail.
                                Rant over.

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by hrsmstr View Post
                                  Putting on my flame retardent suit:

                                  The peanut rolling fad in Western Equitation is so that people can ride horses that move and look like mules, without actually riding a mule. (no offense meant to mules, who move that way because they're made that way)...

                                  Peanut rolling = bad, and if anything, it's a fad which is dying.

                                  Western Eq. can be a lot more difficult than most think though. I personally don't do it - but am a fan and watch a few choice riders when I go to AQHA shows.

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    I have a Polish bred Arab. It depends what we're doing, but if we're just plodding on trails, he looks for all the world like a peanut rolling QH. He sure as heck wasn't trained to do that, but when he's relaxing and moseying down the trail, his head is generally below his withers. I don't see this as a sign of being subjugated to my will, but as a sign of being relaxed.

                                    Now, if we're in an endurance ride or trail riding with a different set of friends and moving out, his head and neck are up closer to what you'd think an Arab should look like. If we're doing dressage or some kind of arena work, his head and neck are more up.

                                    No matter what we're doing, I don't really care what he's doing with his head/neck as long as its conducive to whatever I'm asking him to do. If we're in the arena or moving out on the trail, I'm probably asking for him to engage his hindquarters which makes his head and neck come up some, but that's not me forcing his head/neck to be in any one particular position. The only thing I won't let him do at any point is run around like a llama with his nose in the air and his back all hollow.

                                    My husband's QHs' heads are naturally fairly level no matter what he's doing. They're just not built to carry their heads up like a "proud" saddle horse who's main purpose was to show off prancing through a park. They're built to be a working animal, low to the ground who can jog over all kinds of terrain all day with the occasional short bursts of speed and rapid direction changes when a cow breaks loose.

                                    The stupid peanut rolling thing seen in a lot of Western Pleasure is an over exaggeration of a QH's naturally low headset. Yes, a lot of them are forced to carry their heads unnaturally lower than their withers, which really doesn't serve any functional purpose. However, the majority of QHs are simply built to carry their necks level.

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by hrsmstr View Post
                                      Putting on my flame retardent suit:

                                      The peanut rolling fad in Western Equitation is so that people can ride horses that move and look like mules, without actually riding a mule. (no offense meant to mules, who move that way because they're made that way)...
                                      You must be looking at either different mules or different WP peanut rollers than I am, because the good mules I know are nice forward movers with true gaits and a reasonable headset for their builds. I wouldn't like them so much if they resembled that particular WP fad! Not to mention can you imagine how long it would take to get down a trail at the trope?

                                      OP, I live in cowboy country and most of them don't want an artificially low headset. QHs do have a much lower headset naturally than your average English riding horse, so that probably accounts for a lot of it. You might be comparing them to how they look running in the pasture, but remember too that most average horses will have their heads up, be on their forehands and strung out while running in the pasture...not exactly what you want to ride! When you get any horse relaxed and working from their hindquarters, their heads will drop naturally. The degree just depends on their conformation.

                                      Not to mention, even in the show ring they take into account the horse's build. Watch an Arabian WP class sometime and you'll see that they absolutely don't have the flat neck and super low headset you'll see in QH classes. The head is still lower than, say, a saddleseat horse, but it comes up out of the shoulders and has an arch to it.

                                      I know some people do try to force a low headset as a way to dominate the animal or whatever, but they're ignorant or poor horsemen or both. They shouldn't be used to judge an entire style of riding, especially one as diverse as western.
                                      exploring the relationship between horse and human

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        When I go to a western show, from the stables to the warm-up ring, or if the horses are just standing around, they look nice and relaxed but with natural headsets. As soon as they start warming up, the neck has to go down and looks unnatural. I agree with the OP. Normal for a QH is indeed naturally lower for the most part than a TB/warmblood/Arab, etc. I often wonder why, too.
                                        Proud member of People Who Hate to Kill Wildlife clique

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