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Training A Horse To Keep His Head Down.


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#1 The Farmall 706

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Posted 24 September 2008 - 10:10 PM

I have a 16yr old gelding that is very high headed. He fights the bit constantly. I would really like to fix this, and make him soft and supple also. I'm am tired of having to yank, and I'm sure he's tired of it too.

I recently put him in a loose cheek/O-ring snaffle. It's helped him A LOT, but of course, has not solved the problem completely.

There are many holes in his training. He doesn't move off of leg pressure, doesn't respond to seat position and doesn't perform lead changes on command. He is also very hard mouthed, as I mentioned earlier. He does neck rien. The prievious owner bought him at an auction as a 2yo and trained him in a TomThumb bit. I have reason to believe that he was the first horse she trained by herself. I will say that I did not help the situation, but I would like to fix it. I was 12 when I first swung my leg over this horse, and from day one he was a hardmouthed horse. Up until recently I never knew how much he didn't know.

Where should I start?


I think I have a lot of work to do. Lol.

Any advice would be wonderful.

Edited by The Farmall 706, 24 September 2008 - 10:15 PM.


#2 Cheri Wolfe

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Posted 25 September 2008 - 07:27 AM

This horse does not have the foundation to even think about lead changes or neck-reining. And, 'yanking' on his mouth will only make things a 100X worse. That is why he is 'hard mouthed'. His way of dealing with bad riding has been to 'tune out' the rider.

He needs to be started all over. This horse needs his mouth developed from scratch. He needs to be put in a snaffle and taught to follow his nose and yield to bit pressure. He needs to be taught that he can trust his rider's hands and that they will NEVER YANK on his mouth.

He needs to be taught to yield to pressure and then there has to be a complete release when he complies. Most trainers would do this with a side check that ties a horse's head around each direction to his front or back girth or to his tail. Next, he would be 'bitted up' where he has to find his own 'release' by dropping his head and breaking at the poll. These techniques require experience in my opinion or at least the oversight of a trainer. Done wrong, they can cause a horse to fight himself and flip over backwards or injure his mouth.

You are not experienced enough IMHO to feel comfortable with training aids, so you really need to find a trainer or more experienced person to help you.

If you want to try doing something on your own, I would start with ground work. I'd start with a full cheek or Dee ring snaffle. I would teach him that he has to follow rein pressure around by standing at his side and bringing him around in a small circle by pulling lightly in that rein. This will start teaching him to follow his nose and 'give' to the bit pressure.

Once this horse has learned to 'give' to this bit pressure, I would 'bit him up' lightly with side reins that have rubber link in them. I don't like the side reins you buy with a rubber 'doughnut' in them. They do not have enough 'give'. I use side reins tied to a 2 inch wide 'rubber band' cut out of an old tire inner-tube. But, here again, You need help at this point.

If I can find them and get them up-loaded, I have some photos of a horse with a side check and one bitted up with side reins.

#3 Honey7

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Posted 25 September 2008 - 08:01 AM

First of all, don't "yank" on his mouth. Maintain light pressure and softly bump his mouth down with two hands. Release when he drops his head. Start at a halt. When he starts dropping his head, continue it at a walk. You have to add one more thing while moving though. You have to keep light leg/calf pressure to keep him moving while you bump his head. If you have any further questions, just ask!

#4 historyrider

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Posted 25 September 2008 - 08:38 AM



14 years of rough riding, leverage bits and bad timing from a rider are not going to be fixed in a weekend Farmall. I just wanted to start by saying that so you know this is going to take a while. How well do you ride? Do you have good feel and timing yourself and do you think you can start releasing this horse correctly and giving him reward for softness? Responding correctly to rein pressure has to be taught to a horse and it's so easy to teach them all the wrong things. High headed, rooting, bracing, shaking of the head are all examples of a horse trying to give themselves relief from that pressure they feel in their mouths. A halter and lead rope and then a smooth snaffle bit are the most basic tools to begin this retraining but if the rider doesn't change where and when the horse finds relief, you are wasting your time. You would be wise to begin asking for softness using just one rein at a time and asking for lateral flexing (to one side). At this stage in this horses' life I think he's going to just be way to stiff and set in his conditioned response for you to even consider starting to take up with both. It's just two easy for a horse to lean on that even pressure and give the wrong answer. He's going to be very resistent and stubborn because he has "survived" up to this point doing it his way. He needs to find a better way and the only way that can happen is if the rider holds when he's in the wrong place and rewards every time he goes to the correct one, namely flexing at the poll and giving softely to the riders hands. The pressure doesn't teach the horse anything, the relief and where and when they get it consistently teaches everything.

Cheri has done a great job of explaining some other methods that work without the rider to help a horse learn some of this themselves. It may take longer and require more dedication and skill from the rider but I think change can be made either way.

Others may even offer you more alternatives so ask yourself what you are honestly capable of doing. Do you have enough knowledge and experience riding correctly to change this horses's mind? Are you comfortable enough with your seat and rein management that you can ride this horse in a loose rein and start to trust him and make him responsible for his own feet without hanging onto his face?

Let us know what you would like to try and I will be more specific in trying to help you.



William (historyrider)


#5 Merry

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Posted 25 September 2008 - 09:16 AM

I think that it is very commendable that you are realizing the way your horse goes is not the best, since I see many, many people riding horses that sound just like yours.
One problem is really the riders, that don't know the finer points of riding, just hang on and do the best they can, but without instruction, they can't see where they could improve.
I would first have someone give you a few lessons on a well trained horse, so you can start to become more independent of the reins, that is what causes a horse to fight you.
Once you can sit where you don't have to depend on the reins, then you will have the feel to teach the horse that he also won't now have to be afraid of how the reins will hurt his mouth and confuse it and he won't have to fight you any more.

That same trainer may ride your horse and show you how what you are learning applies to help him understand what you want without a fight.
For that picture of you and your horse to work well, it takes two, you on his back and what you are doing with your weight, legs and reins and how the horse is expecting he will be asked to do whatever you do.

Try to work on yourself first and then working on the horse will be so much easier.


I think, but may be wrong, that this is one of the pictures Cheri is talking about:

http://render-2.snap...C/of=50,590,387

And here are some of side reins.
The second picture shows a horse working with side reins, the rubber donut ones, that I agree with Cheri are not good enough for a release, not any better than using most anything else that doesn't has any give, because that rubber donut is way too stiff:

http://www.google.co.../...=image&cd=1

I think I was wrong with the picture of the side check, that Cheri meant a picture of a horse being side checked, not with a side check on.


Edited by Merry, 25 September 2008 - 09:59 AM.


#6 luvmychip

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Posted 25 September 2008 - 09:47 AM

Wow this sounds just like my Chip. Let me share this as it may help you. We bought him as a 12 year old and he had never been ridden. So me being a kid myself, he didn't get the most effective training either. But he made a darned good barrel horse lol. You just couldn't ask him to do anything else, he'd toss his head up and grab the bit and so forth. He was also very high headed like your horse.
Recently he hurt his leg in the pasture and I retired him from barrel racing. I wasn't sure what the heck I was going to do with him now, he's one of those horses that needs a job. Knowing he'd never be a western pleasure horse, I thought maybe I'd try english. Wow, did I get a wake up call. I realized how little I had taught him and how little I knew. I realized that I was constantly dragging on the bit and sitting back in the saddle, always trying to slow him down. Once I fixed what I was doing wrong, it totally changed.
I started slow, with lateral flexion as someone else said. I can really feel the difference in him, he's not so godawful stiff anymore and I can get him to bend, and he does lead departures! Before he would never EVER go on the right lead. We aren't to lead changes yet but he still managed to get a second and a third at our last show. So hey if I can teach a 21 year old horse leads, your horse will be fine. happy0203.gif
But mostly it was me! Once I got off his mouth and actually moved in the saddle instead of just sitting like a sack of potatoes, it was like a light bulb lit for both of us. Like hey, we can learn something and it can be fun! And you know what? It was hard to let go of those reins. I did not trust my horse. I love him but I didn't trust him not to take off if I let go. But once I did let go and just gave him a little bump when he needed it we both were much more comfortable together. And his head automatically dropped. He will never be a peanut roller (and I don't want him to be!) but he keeps it nice and level most of the time.
I guess what I want to say is before you go buy yourself $500 worth of gear to "fix" your horse, be honest with yourself and be just as critical of yourself. Start with the most simple bending exercises work up from there. He can't do lead changes if he can't bend. He can't bend correctly if he doesn't respond to leg pressure. So start there. And he probably will be confused and frustrated at first (and you too!) But just give him a chance to figure it out. Praise, praise, praise! You can't punish for everything he does wrong and do nothing when he does it right and expect him to want to work with you. And stay off his mouth, I thought Chip was an old hard-mouthed jerk until I got off his dang face. I ride him in an o-ring snaffle now and I barely have to touch him at all.

Hope that was somewhat helpful jump.gif

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#7 jd120

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Posted 28 September 2008 - 09:50 AM

To get my horse to lower his head and relax, I was taught just to "talk" to him while riding. Just wiggling my fourth finger on both reins, or just the inside would help my horse to relax and lower his head being able to work more into the bit and more productively.
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#8 docsahottie

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Posted 01 October 2008 - 11:00 AM

A twisted wire O-ring would work lots better than a smooth mouth O-ring if he is truly hard-mouthed, and at his age at this point, with the kind of riding he's dealt with, he may very well be!

Even if you are inexperienced, as long as you are gentle and ride in safe, enclosed area, like an arena that's not too big, or a larger round pen, you can put to use a martingale, specifically a running martingale, I don't too much care for what they call a training fork, it ends up putting the rings too far back towards the horse if not adjusted correctly, and those German martingales just truly befuddle me, and are WAY too constrictive on an already stressed out, high-headed horse!

A simple, twisted wire O-ring will give you a little bite too it, make sure it's copper-covered so your horse can "taste" it and the twisted wire part gives it more "feel" than the smooth-mouth ones, especially useful for a horse that's already tuning you out, anyway, using split reins, NOT roping reins, it's NOT a good idea to use roping reins to "cheat" having to hold such long reins properly, again, like using the German martingale, on a horse like this just sounds like it would be too much for him to bear, so use the regular Western-style "running" martingale, adjust the buckle for the rings to be about halfway between the horse's mouth and their chest, the weight of the rings on the martingale, and the relief of the O-ring work well to "remind" the horse to keep their heads down, wherever your hands put them,

For instance, keeping your hands level with the horn, in front, on top of the withers, teaches the horse a normal headset, nothing too extreme, and the horse punishes himself by raising his head too high, and bumps the bars of his mouth with the bit, I promise you he will bring it back down REAL quick, they don't like the pressure, you can ride him around to let him get used to this going on, just stay at a walk for a good long while, ride him in circles, pretty large ones at first, nothing too tight, remember, you're not trying to get him limber, you're working on his headset! Also, try backing him, expecting him to keep his head level with the horn, but DON'T "hold" his down for this, just stay gentle and consistent, and he'll do it all on his own, keep your hands level and he'll get the point rather quickly, just get used to the "lack of control" that riding in the O-ring will leave you feeling, the martingale just kind of throws in that extra control, once he's been in this long enough, he'll probably need to be transisted to a twisted wire, sweet six, or twisted wire jr. cowhorse bit, with or without nosebands.

It sounds like you have a nice horse on your hands, he just needs some more training, and he'll be super-nice! smileywavey.gif
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#9 Guest_roll_*

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Posted 01 October 2008 - 12:35 PM

PLease I don't want you to think I'm being rude to you. But get a trainer for YOU AND the horse. Watch it being done right. You are about to begin starting this colt at zero. Which means starting over like it's a rude colt. Sounds like all they did before you got him was get on and ride and he better like it kind of training. You need to start with softness from the ground. Lateral and vertical flexion can be and should be taught from the ground with a lead rope before you get on him. And to tie a horses head around you better know what you're doing. When I first tie a head around the horse has been taught from the ground is already willing to flex. AND when I do tie it's to the back cinch and for only 5 minutes on both sides at a time and I never leave them alone....NEVER. I do this for roughly 40 minutes 5 minute intervals each side. And I use a slip knot in case of trouble. But there is so much more to tieing than just tieing, you have to know what comes next and when. Since he's already bit sour I would get the kindest bit you can find......smoothmouth "O" ring .....but that is just me.

Please get a TRAINER.

#10 PeachesandCream

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Posted 01 October 2008 - 01:28 PM

Ditto the not trying to be rude.. but here goes nothing:

With a horse this ill-trained, get off his back and start groundwork. Lunging can work miracles for horses who just don't like to listen. Why you are concerned about lead changes and seat is beyond me, if your horse ignores both your hands and your leg.

First, if you are not very steady on a lunge (I know most people don't use them often) get someone who is, or practise on a horse who is very steady on them. Start with free moving circles, progressing w/t/c when you feel your horse is ready for it (beware, balance issues become very apparent). When you are getting nice smooth rhythm at all three, start with very loose side reins, and slowwwwwwly progress into the higher gaits. Once you are getting stready respnces, start working with inter-gait transitions (fast trot slow trot). As training progresses, start tightening the side reins as you think correct, but never get them to force your horses head down.

Basically, you guy needs to start looking for contact, and softening to it (both with rein and leg aids). Seat and whatnot will come later. Hard mouths are usually just resisting mouths, not truly hard. They just need to find ways to respect you, and that they arn't going to be pulled in the mouth or hit on the sides to do things (by the sounds of it, his old trainer).

Oh: Loose ring snaffle, correctly fitting, seems to be the least forceful bit I've worked with. French link = even better.

The KEY point to all of this: You need to get rid of the idea that his head is too high, or that he ignores your leg or other aids, and to replace them with getting a HAPPY forward supple horse. Then you get to start on the finessing part :-)

Good Luck!
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