Head tossing, part 2
Other causes of head throwing include using a leverage bit before obtaining a good foundation with a snaffle bit, abusing a neck rein by relying solely on it rather than other communication and by not feeling or sensing feedback from the horse to adjust rider response.
A leverage bit can be quite a bit harsher than a snaffle bit because it adds pressure under the chin as well as on the mouth. This is not a good bit to use if a horse does not already understand to give to pressure in a variety of ways, including lateral and vertical flexion. Many people feel a snaffle bit is defined that way because it has hinge in the middle of the bit, but that is not true. A snaffle bit is defined that way because there are no levers. The rein is attached directly to the ring that the bit is on. This is the most direct, black-and-white way to teach a horse to submit to pressure without undue discomfort. Although this bit is good for teaching, it can still frustrate a horse if it is used in the wrong way.
Orscheln Farm and Home sells snaffle bits for $4 or so, making them reasonably priced for anyone.
Abusing a neck rein is probably one of the most prevalent causes of head throwing. People lay the rein across a horse’s neck to turn it, and if it doesn’t turn right away, they lay it harder, causing the horse’s head to tilt sideways and up in an awkward position. In our mechanized age, we tend to be conditioned that if something is not working, just crank down harder on it. The problem here is when we pull a horse’s head out of position, we make it harder for it to do what we want. In asking a horse to turn, the neck rein should have the least amount of pressure for a few reasons. The first reason is that we want a horse to respond lightly. We have to show it the same lightness we would like it to respond to. The second reason is more pressure pulls a horse’s head out of position. If anything, more pressure needs to be applied to the leading rein, showing the horse the direction of travel. But rhythmic pressure is the main motivator here – this would be a hand, swinging rope, or stick, warning by hitting air before hitting the horse next to the neck rein. To summarize the process, the neck rein is first laid across the neck, then rhythmic pressure, then be ready to correct head position with direct rein pulling the direction we want to go.
To help us feel and sense our horse, we can look at God’s fourth commandment: Observe the Sabbath. Many times, we become robotic about what we do and we do not leave room for the adjustments that come from a mindset of observing, remembering and comparing. The things we need to feel for are energy level, forward or backward movement and whether a horse is paying attention or not. If the energy level is high, we need less rhythmic energy through our stick, or hand otherwise we will create too much energy. If the energy level is low, we probably need more rhythmic motion through our stick, legs or body.
Our voice noises can create more energy also. Usually, seasoned horses need to be reminded this way. This is where spurs can come in handy. Spurs are normally thought of for more forward speed, but they are meant more for lateral motion, such as turns and sideways movement. It is better to use a stick or spurs to motivate a horse to turn rather than laying a neck rein harder on their neck.
If a horse is pushing or charging forward, we need to take a balanced pull on both reins to control forward energy. If a horse is backing up, we need to let off on the reins so it can direct energy into the turn from the backup. A neck rein usually asks for a turn on the haunches so we are trying to balance a back and over movement. These are things we should be aware of as we are asking our horse to respond.
We then are full circle back to getting a horse’s attention so we do not surprise it when we begin communicating to them what we want them to do. All of this leads to a smoother, more beautiful turn in feel as well as looks, just like dance partners.
Mike Daniels is a horsemanship trainer and barefoot trimming specialist from Raymondville. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.