November 18, 2008
It’s important not to make problems worse by misusing training aids.
Why do some horses have more trouble with their head position than others? This is a common issue with horse people, regardless of whether it’s a trainer with performance horses or recreational riders. Often, the solution is tying the head down or using leverage gimmicks that apply more pressure. In most cases, the person ends up identifying the symptom as the problem.
The symptom is the horse’s elevated head or open mouth. The popular solution is generally a tie down, martingale, draw reins, more leverage, etc.
The problem from our perspective is that our horse’s head is up and the mouth is open. But from the horse’s perspective, the problem is our hands and/or our weight, compounded by possible dental issues. When we can take responsibility for causing the problem and eliminate the cause, the problem can go away without all the gimmicks.
When we rely on tools or more pressure to treat the symptoms, not only do we cause our horses more grief and confusion, but many of these methods have a low percentage of success – especially when you consider the side effects they might cause.
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There are various things that can cause head problems. For example, when the head goes up and the mouth opens, the message sent from the hands through the reins is not carrying through the muscles and getting to the feet. The person might be quick to pull on the reins, and the horse doesn’t have time to prepare to position the feet for the maneuver we are asking for. This is like dumping the clutch on a stick shift vehicle. If we let the clutch out to the point the vehicle starts to respond, then wait and feel real easy before letting it out all the way, we can learn to make smooth transitions from a stop to a start or one gear to another, but when we are too quick, the vehicle jars and stalls.
When we cause the horse to brace the neck muscles by pulling too hard or too quick, we inhibit the balance of the horse and his movement. His movement will not be smooth and natural, and neither will his head carriage.
Horses uses their heads to balance, shifting from side to side and up and down. Any movement in their head and neck is countered through the shoulders by movement in the back and hindquarters, like a teeter-totter that moves sideways, one end can’t move without affecting the other.
AQHA’s new report, Horse Training Techniques with Martin Black, shows you how to reach your horse training goals. Martin teaches you how to communicate correctly to your horse for smooth transitions, how to maintain specific balance in the saddle so you stay out of your horse’s way, plus much more.
Check the Teeth
Another factor that can cause head position problems or add to other problems is inadequate dentistry. Without proper dental maintenance, the bit can pinch the cheek or tissue on the bars of the mouth against sharp teeth. Even a hackamore can cut the inside of the cheek if the molars are sharp, or if the horse is shedding caps from the molars. Caps need to be checked every six months from the middle of a horse’s 2-year-old year through the end of his 3-year-old year, or until all 12 molar caps are gone.
Wolf teeth should be removed before the horse even has a bit in his mouth. The wolf teeth can be sharp against the tissue, and the shallow root can get bumped and loosened which will be irritating.
Learn more about Martin Black’s horse training techniques, products and services at his Web site.