Do you have a horse who loves to stargaze, or in other words, travel with his head held high? A high-head position is undesirable for a few different reasons. For one, it often makes for a choppier gait, which is not as comfortable to ride. When a horse’s head is up, they also tend to be hollow through their back, which can lead to problems like back pain and lack of muscle development over time.
The good news is that high-head carriage can almost always be improved upon. First, you’ll need to figure out why your horse is riding high-headed. Then, you can take a few easy steps to correct it.
When you’re horseback riding, it’s important to be humble. Sometimes what you assume to be a horse training problem is actually rider error. Is it possible your horse is carrying his head high because of the way you are riding?
Sometimes horses raise their heads because the rider is holding their reins too tightly. Try loosening your reins, and see if your horse responds by lowering their head.
You may also be moving your hands too quickly. Riders often do this when trying a new horse – either because they’re a little nervous or because their bodies have not quite learned how to go with that horse’s rhythm yet. Really focus on keeping your hands quiet and steady. Absorb the horse’s movement through your elbows, rather than moving your hands.
Pain or Poorly Fitting Tack
Some horses carry their heads high because it’s uncomfortable to carry their heads lower. If this behavior is new for your horse, consider whether the change may be due to pain. Did your horse hit their head on the trailer ceiling, causing a sore poll? Do they have a wound under their chin that’s making it painful for them to wear a bridle?
Sometimes horses will hold their heads high because the bit you’re using doesn’t fit well. It could be pinching their cheeks or tongue. Try a few other bits to see whether your horse carries their head lower in a different bit. Some horses simply prefer a lower port, a wider mouthpiece, or a shorter shank because of the way their mouth is shaped.
Occasionally, a poorly fitting saddle may cause a horse to travel high-headed. The saddle may pinch your horse if they lower their head, so they raise their head to be more comfortable. Make sure your saddle is not resting on your horse’s withers or pinching their shoulders. An easy way to tell whether your saddle is the problem is to ride in a few friends’ saddles. If your horse travels high-headed in all of them, then you’re probably dealing with a training issue, not a tack issue.
If you’ve ruled out rider error, pain, and poorly fitting tack, then your horse is probably carrying their head high because they has not been trained to do otherwise. Teaching your horse to carry their head lower will require some patience, but you do not need to be a horseback riding professional to succeed. Especially if your horse has been traveling high-headed for some time, it may take them a little while to develop the musculature to carry themself with a lower headset. So you can expect the change to take a few weeks or months, rather than a few days.
A great way to learn how to teach your horse to keep their head down when riding is to watch our training video: Teaching Your Horse Not to Ride High-Headed. As with most horse training, teaching your horse to lower their head requires a good balance of patience, consistency, and compassion. Whether you’re an experienced horse owner or are new to horseback riding, consider joining Easy Horse Fix. Our training videos will help you solve a wide variety of common training issues, from high-head carriage to backing up.
Be patient, and repeat this exercise every time you ride your horse. Before long, your horse will learn to respond to rein pressure by lowering their head. Eventually, they will start carrying their head lower by default. This lower-head carriage will make horseback riding more comfortable, and it will also put your horse in a position where they are more ready and able to respond to your aids.