November 30, 2010
Borrow a trainer and stop the head bob at the lope.
By AQHA Professional Horsewoman and National Snaffle Bit Association Executive Director Dianne Eppers with Christine Hamilton
This is the last in a two-part series. Need to review part 1?
When we talk about a “head bob,” it refers to a western pleasure horse whose head and neck bob up and down within the rhythm of the lope. You see it in horses asked to lope too slowly – usually the horse is struggling to maintain his balance and uses his head and neck to compensate for it.
What to Do
1. Don’t be fooled. As you watch a horse lope, you want to be able to see the difference between a gait that’s mechanically made and a gait that the horse is doing from natural ability that training has complemented.
Look for inconsistency. A man-made lope usually will have an inconsistent rhythm; it comes from the rider trying to alter the natural speed of the horse’s gait. Surging also happens when a horse is struggling to find a comfortable rhythm.
A horse cannot maintain a consistent rhythm and pace at the lope when cranked back to go too slowly. If you watch a horse and it makes a mistake in its gait, it’s probably because someone has trained it to move that way.
Expecting a foal? AQHA’s detailed Equine Breeding Techniques and Foal Health Tips report guides you through the entire process, from mare care and signs of labor to foaling complications and first-hours foal care.
Look for an artificial manner. The man-made mover will have all of the good aspects of the natural mover, but they will be exaggerated. A horse that had to be trained to move a certain way had to memorize how to do it, and it looks exaggerated. For a horseman, it’s easy to spot them — it’s mechanical.
Look at the conformation. Remember, good conformation is an important element to the quality of a horse’s movement, because it gives a horse natural ability to begin with. Beginning with a horse with correct, balanced conformation allows you to achieve better results, easier, and you will often see those results last for many years.
2. Encourage forward motion. If you have purchased a horse that lopes with a head bob, asking him to move forward to create a natural, comfortable gait will eliminate it. All you need to do is increase the forward motion a little bit and not “ride the brake.”
I think people are often afraid to lope forward or gallop because they think the horse will not go slowly after that and will learn to just lope at that increased pace. That is not the case. It’s just another element of his education. You want your horse to have a variety of levels in his education.
If you decide to dial him down into a slower gear or if you need to push him into a more forward motion, he should be relaxed in either place. And if you ask him to gallop around in circles, he should be relaxed there.
After you move him forward, then you’re going to want to take him back down a little, so that he knows that you still want to go slow. But don’t crank him all the way back down to that really slow gear that he was in before, because that’s where the head bob is going to be. It was trained into him at a certain speed.
3. Change the routine. In the training process, these horses are taught to be extremely obedient and to have a certain time frame in which they do their work. There might have been an emphasis on a 15- or 20-minute training session, and during that session, the horse is asked to perform at the level of a perfect 10.
To get that training to fall to the back burner, start to change up the work that you do at home. Do more of an extended jog or an extended lope in your routine. Just by changing the schooling routine and adding forward motion, the horse’s frame and head bob will improve drastically.
Be prepared for foaling season. AQHA’s detailed Equine Breeding Techniques and Foal Health Tips report guides you through the entire process, from mare care and signs of labor to foaling complications and first-hours foal care.
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