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DEAR DANA: My mare wants to carry her head and neck too low at the walk and trot. She naturally has a very level top line, but is dropping her head and neck very low, especially as she tires. She is starting to look like a peanut roller. Are there exercises I can do to correct this?
—Lisa Forgie of Lowden, Iowa

DEAR LISA: This is a common problem, and I have some great exercises that can help you. Very often this problem starts because we, the riders, want a level headset, and we ask our horse to drop his head — then reward him by dropping our reins! The problem is that every time we reward them by dropping our reins, the horse will end up following the reins down with her head and neck, and she leans to get her head and neck too low. Now…guess where their body weight goes? To their front end! So there are two exercises that help:

  1. Every time you pick up on your horse — to bridle him, to collect him, or to drop his head — stay in contact with your horse until she not only gives in the face, but also softens in the face and collects up or rounds up through her body. Horses can be programmed, and you or another rider may have programmed her to do this by dropping off her face too early. I release when my horse (A) gives her face by dropping her head, (B) softens in the face, and (C) collects up and rounds up through her body. I know this when I feel the lift and when I feel her steps soften and become more cadenced.
  2. The next helpful exercise is this: When she drops her head low, stop her, back her, and roll back, then trot off the other way. Often horses get lazy, and their body weight goes to their front end — and the problem of the head and neck getting too low is secondary to the body weight being carried on the front end. I use the stop in two ways: (A) to diagnose where my horse’s body weight is, and (B) to correct my horse’s body weight getting on her front end. So, when you stop your horse, draw her to the ground. Don’t jerk her — jerking her may lose the message and may hide in the face.

Your goal is to get control of her feet and body weight smoothly and firmly. I teach my students to firmly draw into the ground folding their body on the horse. By that I mean don’t brace or throw your body back on your horse, just sit. Also, after your horse comes to a stop, check out her body weight. Was she heavy in your hands? Did she take a step or two backward or forward? Or, did you feel her try to push or lean forward? If so, she was on her front end. I ask all my horses to stop light and balanced in my hands, even folding in the hindquarters like a reiner. How they stop will tell you how they were moving!

After you have diagnosed your horse through the stop, you can use the stop as a correction. Do this by stopping, backing, and rolling back until your horse will carry herself longer. I just back my horse until I feel him soften and lift up in the shoulders, and then I turn and go forward. The correction isn’t about the back-up, just about re-directing the body weight to the hindquarters and demanding that my horse carry herself.

Good luck, I hope this helps you! Also, my training DVD, “Get the Lean Out Of Your Performance Horse” looks into this very topic!

Dana

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