Dear Dana: Every time that I bridle my horse’s head, as I release him he lifts his head back up — and comes right back out of the bridle. I must admit I am getting really frustrated with him, and sometimes I really jerk him. Then, he over-bridles but still pops his neck back up! Please give me some advice.
Dear Steve: The problem that you are having is a common one and usually stems from the rider’s timing in his release. In other words, you are probably releasing before your horse truly gives and puts his neck in the correct position.
How high or how low your horse’s head and neck carriage is, is directly related to his conformation, training, and the timing of the rider’s release. Most people feel that, in order to get the horse’s head bridled, they need to bump or pull on the bridle reins until the horse tucks his chin. Them when he does that, they release.
However, there is much more involved in the horse’s headset than just tucking his chin. In order for a horse to correctly flex and bridle, they give in the poll, the jaw and they flex or give in the neck. Where a horse gives in the neck is often the secret to where he will carry his head. When a horse flexes or bridles, there is always a point on his neck where his angle changes and goes from “going up” to “going down.” I will call that the breaking point, or point of flexion. When a horse bridles his head and his breaking point is up high on his neck close to his ears, he will usually raise his head after he is released. If you bridle him — and keep bridling him until his breaking point is further back by the wither — he will usually extend his head out level or slightly drop it. When a horse’s breaking point is further back he is potentially using more of his body and even engaging his shoulders and withers. Consequently, when he is asked to bridle his head and engage his shoulders, he will have much more lift and will be a more collected horse.
I am a firm believer that if your horse is soft in the face, that is a desired result. I am not disconnecting the value of making your horse soft and light. But when you take this a step further and ask him to be soft as well as bring his breaking point further back, you will have a much better result.
Horses can learn to “hide” and tuck their chins in when we take ahold of them. Our first response is to release, as that was good and the horse “tried” for us. But if we “stay in” so to speak, gently and firmly until we see that breaking point come back closer to the wither and then release, we will have a horse with the “stay” and consistency that we want. I also feel that the horse is more comfortable using his “whole body” for collection and flexion.
Becoming aware of your horses response will not only heighten your level of awareness, it will also make you a “mindful” rider. Riding mindfully should be everyone’s goal! I hope these tips help you!
P.S. – I have a DVD series that will explain all of this and more. They are my Headset Series, Take Control 5, 6, and 7.
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