A nice, level headset is about more than just looks. When your horse carries their head level, their gaits tend to be more comfortable. Plus, you know they’re listening and ready to respond to your aids. If your horse travels with their head too high, their gaits will feel hollow, and they may not respond well to rein aids. But how do you keep your horse’s head down while riding? At Easy Horse Fix, this is a skill we teach with kindness, patience, and repetition.
“Solutions” to Avoid
Horseback riding on a high-headed horse isn’t fun. So, it makes sense that riders would look for a quick-and-easy fix to this problem. But sadly, most quick solutions are either ineffective, dangerous, or painful for the horse.
Yanking or jerking the reins may cause your horse to lower their head, but only in response to pain. This is especially the case when riding in a western bit with shanks. Horses learn quickly and truly aim to please when treated with kindness, so there is no need to cause pain with your training.
Some riders turn to gadgets like training forks and draw reins to lower their horse’s head. However, forcing your horse into a fixed head or neck position may cause strains and overuse injuries in the neck and back. Plus, using these devices on trails can be dangerous. Your horse must be able to freely use their head and neck for balance, especially on uneven terrain. Teaching your horse to lower their head, naturally, is a kinder and more effective approach to horseback riding.
Common Causes of High Head Carriage
High head carriage is often due to a hole in training, especially when seen in green horses. However, before you assume you’re dealing with a training issue, you always want to rule out pain and rider errors as possible causes.
How are you holding your reins? In western tack, you should have plenty of “loop” in the reins when you’re not using them. If you tend to shorten your reins when nervous, that could be why your horse is raising their head. In English tack, you can ride with more contact in the reins, but your contact should always be elastic. In other words, you should bend through the elbows and let your hands follow your horse’s head and neck movement.
Look over your tack, too. If your bit is worn and has some sharp points, replace it – and your horse will probably lower their head. If you’re riding in a harsh bit with a thin mouthpiece and really long shanks, try riding in a milder bit. Sometimes you have to try a few bits to find one a horse is comfortable in.
If you’re riding with proper rein contact and your horse carries their head high in every bit, then you probably are dealing with a training issue. Easy Horse Fix has a gentle teaching method that can help.
Teaching Level Head Carriage: The Easy Horse Fix Way
Especially when you’re working with a green horse, we recommend starting with the Foundational Flex 7 exercise. This will teach your horse to give and lower their head when you’re on the ground. Once your horse is consistently performing the Flex 7 exercise, you can start teaching them to lower their head while under saddle.
Our head-lowering exercise can be done in either English or western tack. We recommend spending a few minutes on it at the beginning of every ride. But you’ll also want to repeat the exercise a few times throughout your ride when you notice your horse carrying their head too high.
You’ll want to watch our video “Teaching Your Horse Not to Ride High-Headed” to see our teaching methods in action. To quickly summarize, when your horse is carrying their head too high, you’ll ask them to flex their neck in one direction. When they lower their head, you’ll release your rein pressure as a reward.
This exercise works on the same principles as our other training exercises. We give the horse a gentle, but desirable reward when they perform the behavior we ask. Then, we repeat the exercise and reward again and again. With patience and consistency, the horse learns what action pleases the rider, and they start offering that action more often.
Once your horse understands that you’d prefer their head down, they’ll travel with a nice, level headset. The secret lies in helping them to understand, and that’s what we do at Easy Horse Fix. To learn more horseback riding tips, you can sign up for a membership for access to all of our videos! Happy Trails!