Unwanted Behavior: Lowering Head At the Lope

Topic_Info:    lowering his head at lope
Website_Info:  google
Location:      Sedona AZ
Date:          May 03, 2011

How do I prevent my horse from lowering his head while loping?

When a horse carries his head at an unusually low height while moving it is typically a sign of them "avoiding" what is being presented... It can mask insecure or worried feelings and so instead of looking ahead with intention as to where the horse is about to move, he is "going through the motions" without mentally participating in what you are asking of him.  A horse's physical behavior is a direct reflection of his mental and emotional state.  When your horse feels good about what you are asking of him, he will move in a fluid, balanced and natural manner.  When he is worried, concerned, unclear or fearful he will move in an unnatural state.  Also you need to realize that most unwanted behaviors are not the issue themselves, but rather a symptom of an underlying issue.  In this case your horse's lack of thinking and participating to move forward may be the issue, and his low head carriage the symptom.

I would slow down and review the quality of your walk, jog, trot and transitions.  You should be able to get multiple different "energies" from your horse within each gait.  You'll want to assess if you increase the energy at one gait, does your horse start to show signs of stress which could include: shaking his head, "grabbing the bit," swishing his tail, grinding his teeth, taking short and fast "sewing machine steps" as oppose to quality forward steps using his hindquarters to push him forward, etc.  As you gradually increase or decrease your energy in the saddle, he should match the change in his energy willingly and without any abruptness.  Horses who are avoiding thinking and literally looking forward as they move tend to react as if they are being "pushed" forward.  This may be from a rider's heavy hands, inconsistent aids, fear of speed when ridden created in the horse from not moving balanced, and a multitude of other factors.

First a horse must be able to offer relaxed, fluid and consistent changes of energy within a gait, then quality transitions from one gait to another and then I start asking for more energy in the faster gaits.  If the horse starts to "dive" down on the bit or forehand as I increase my energy in the saddle (this does not mean kicking him forward or relying on spurs or whips as an aid,) if I just pull back on the reins I'm offering him something to resist- the bit.  If I offer a "consistent resistance" challenging my horse to a game of tug-o-war guess who will always win?  The horse.

Make sure as you ride that your intention in your own mind is clear and that you are "taking your horse for the ride" as oppose to waiting to see what he'll offer you and then telling him if he's reacting wrongly.  Your goal is to get your horse to think forward, then he'll move forward.  It's a bit like the child's game of "hot and cold."  You'll need to quickly and effectively convey to your horse that his reaction to thinking and then moving forward cannot be addressed by his diving downwards as you increase your energy.  The faster you can communicate that when he tries to dive that his behavior will not work, the faster he will "let it go" and quit diving on the forehand.

There are many ways to communicate that "a behavior your horse is offering isn't going to work," and it comes down to clear and effective communication.  Again a foundation of clear aids or "tools" needs to be established so that when you need to show your horse that something he is doing isn't going to work, he can understand and accept the aid, rather than becoming defensive towards the aid itself.  Too many times people think they are correcting a horse, when in reality they don't have enough tools to work with to clearly communicate with their horse.  So when they try to reprimand the horse, it just creates "another issue" that adds more confusion to the horse, which typically creates a defensive demeanor in the horse towards the person.

One such example of showing a horse his behavior is unacceptable (assuming there are quality tools established ahead of time) is by using an indirect inside rein.  If the aid is used correctly with accurate timing and an appropriate energy of the rider's hand, the rein will "tap into" the horse's brain and ask him to shift his weight and rock back onto his hindquarters.  In order to do this, he will lift his withers and lighten his weight off of the forehand.  As he moves in a more balanced state, he will then offer to carry his head at a more normal and natural height.

The problem is, too many people do not understand all of the many options in how, when and why they use their reins.  They do not asses their own sensitivity (or lack of) when trying to communicate to the horse.  They do not understand the difference between a direct and indirect rein.  They do not understand when to recognize and accept a "try" or effort from the horse, and when to ask more.  So too many times people wind up "picking a fight" with their horse when they are trying to correct an issue. 

Good Luck,

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