July 6th, 2010 Leave a commentSign Up Go to comments

Teaching Your Horse Suppleness in His Neck and Jaw

Is your horse resistant to contact with the reins? Does he poke his nose out when you ask for the slightest softness through his jaw?

Many horses are taught how to be supple through the neck and jaw incorrectly. Instead of looking and reaching for the contact they will push against it or avoid it. One of the reasons for this behavior is having incorrect training. Incorrect training will “teach” a horse to appear like he is supple through his neck and jaw by; see-sawing on the bit, using draw reins, and or using a martingale. All of these artificial contraptions will teach a horse not only how to avoid the bit but also how to ride around with tension in his muscles.

By see-sawing or using artificial contraptions you are not teaching the horse to correctly use his neck or body. He is being taught to either brace on the bit, become heavy in the hand, hyper flex, or use his body incorrectly, just to name a few. For correct and classical training that progresses smoothly and consistently your horse needs to be taught using a correct program. Attempting to take shortcuts always ends up in a longer training time, as you will need to “un teach” the habits that were learned using shortcut methods.

To retrain/ re-teach a horse start on the ground first. We are going to assume that your horse has already had basic ground training, as well as sufficient under saddle training. However you still start an exercise on the ground first.

The first exercise that I recommend is to lightly lunge while using side reins. The side reins should be set fairly loose to start with, and should allow the horse some support without forcing his head/ neck into a frame. Your horse should have his nose on or slightly in front of the vertical. This will help your horse to build the necessary muscles to carry himself in more of a frame, as well as teach him to look for contact with the bit.

After lunging your horse lightly for several days, it is time to add another exercise. This is also started on the ground first, however this exercise can be done under saddle as well. Start with your horse in a halter, and a lead rope. You stand at your horses shoulder and face your horses head, now take on the lead rope (start lightly first) and ask your horse to flex his head towards you. You only ask your horse to flex his neck far enough that his nose would be able to sniff you, or if you were in the saddle his nose would be several inches from your leg. As soon as your horse relaxes his neck into the stretch, then release on the lead rope. He should be able to hold his head in the stretch for several seconds. If your horse is particularly stiff or resistant to this stretch you can use a carrot. Allow your horse to smell or see the carrot, then take his lead and ask for the stretch at the same time as holding the carrot so that he can see it. After he has stretched his head around you can give him the carrot. *Keep in mind that too much hand feeding can teach your horse to bite.*

The next exercise is done under saddle. However you can also perform the same exercise on the ground. This exercise starts with a large (20 meter) circle and then you go from the large circle to a smaller circle (10-15 meters) and back to the large circle. You start out on a 20 meter circle (about the size of a large lunge circle) at the walk. Walk 1 or 2 circles, then switch directions. Repeat the same 1 or 2 large 20 meter circles at the walk. Now you start out on the 20 meter circle again, and ride about half the circle. As you are approaching halfway around the circle ask your horse to go onto the smaller circle (10-15 meters). The size of your smaller circle depends on your horses level of fitness. If it is really difficult to ride your horse on the 10 meter circle start with the 15 meter circle. This way you are giving him time to stretch out and loosen his muscles. Ride the smaller circle 1 time around and then proceed back onto your 20 meter circle. About halfway around your large circle ask for the smaller circle again. Ride the small circle 1 time again. Repeat this several more times in this direction, then switch directions and continue riding the same half circle to small circles in the new direction.

Once your horse is riding this exercise fairly easily you can try it at the trot. Start out the same way at the trot as you did in the walk. As your horse loosens up more and more you can add the smaller circles more frequently throughout the large circle.

Remember every horse has a different level of natural suppleness. Some hold more tension in their muscles while others feel more loose. We as riders have the same issues with varying degrees of suppleness. We also need to stretch our muscles out as well.

©Horse Logic 2009

Editor’s Note: Based in Sugar Grove IL, Sara McKiness is a Certified Horse Trainer who helps riders improve their communication with horses without punishment. She graduated valedictorian from Meredith Manor International Equestrian Center (MMIEC) where she majored in teaching and training, and minored in Farrier Science.

Classical Dressage, Western, and Hunt Seat Lessons. Come ride exceptional & experienced lesson horses. Based in Sugar Grove IL with travel to your facility available. Learn better communication with your horse & build your relationship. Fully insured with over 19 years riding experience. Contact Sara for more information 630-631-2746

Sara McKiness
Horse Logic
Sugar Grove, IL

Fheonix Soft Treed Saddles

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