November 30, 2009
Learn how to get your horse to lower his head.
Whether you’re working with a colt or an experienced horse, getting him to lower his head is important for both your safety and the horse’s. Horses communicate mainly through body language. When a horse lowers his head, he’s telling you he’s relaxed and comfortable. When a horse’s head is up high, he’s saying, “I’m nervous and agitated.”
Before you begin teaching your horse to lower his head, it’s important to work with him in the round pen to establish leadership, respect and communication – the three critical foundations of all training.
Once you’ve established these three foundations, I recommend using a reward system to help your horse learn to lower his head.
Start by putting a halter on your horse and attaching a lead rope. Then gently put downward pressure on the lead rope while repeating in a calm voice the words “head down.” If the horse pulls back, release the pressure. Pull down gently again – wait for your horse to lower his head a few inches – then immediately reward him with a small handful of grain.
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It’s very important to reward the horse properly. You don’t want the horse to go after the grain aggressively. If he does, “pop” your hand up against his mouth. It won’t hurt the horse, but it will teach him to ask nicely for the treat.
You also don’t have to reward the horse with grain forever. After a while, you can replace the grain reward with rubs and verbal praise. What the grain reward does is simply help your horse learn the desired behavior more quickly and associate it with something pleasurable. Whenever you’re teaching a horse something for the first time, it’s very effective to “over-reward and under-correct.”
Continue putting gentle pressure on the lead rope, saying “head down” and giving a
treat. Each time, get your horse to lower his head a bit more. After a while, your horse will start to lower his head without any downward pressure on the lead rope. At this point, you can begin rewarding him with rubs on the forehead, etc.
Repeat this technique several days in a row, and soon you’ll find your horse willingly lowers his head at your “head down” cue. This makes it easier and safer to halter and bridle him. Be patient, keep the sessions to about 15 to 30 minutes and always end on a good note. Stay safe and have fun.
Dennis Brouse is the host of the TV show “Saddle Up With Dennis Brouse.”
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