Halter Breaking

Like every other aspect of training a horse, there are many views on how to halter break a colt. My view on the subject is quite simple, and it’s pretty much the way I view almost all aspects of training a horse.  I use a simple pressure and release method that seems to work quite well for me.

To start your horse needs to be equipped with a well fitted halter.  I like both nylon halters and the rope halters.  When halter breaking a colt I prefer to use a cotton lead rope because they are a little softer on the hands than other types of ropes.  If your horse is a little on the wild side you may want to wear a pair of gloves to protect your hands.

I start by applying steady pressure on the lead rope.  I continue to hold constant pressure on the rope until the horse makes any attempt at taking a step.  Then I release pressure on the rope.  At this point it doesn’t matter to me if he takes and actual step forward or if he just slightly rocked his weight forward.  With any forward movement at all, I release pressure on the rope.  This will get your horse thinking.  I give the horse a couple of seconds to think about what went on, then I’ll apply pressure on the rope again, wait for him to move a little forwards and then release pressure when he does. I will give him a couple of seconds to think again.  Then repeat.

After several times repeating, if my horse hasn’t taken an actual step, I continue to hold pressure on the rope until he gives me one full step.  The second I get that step I release all pressure.  If he completely refuses to move forward for me, I will step slightly to the side and apply pressure sideways instead of straight forward.  This pulls your horse a little off balance, and he will step to the side to regain it.

After my horse starts to figure out that when I’m putting pressure on him, he needs to take a step and I’ll let him rest, I start giving him shorter rest breaks.  He may only get a have a second with no pressure.  I try to get a rhythm going with my horse’s step where I apply pressure on the rope. He steps. I release pressure. Immediately pick the rope up again and ask for another step. And just keep repeating and applying only as much pressure as needed to get that step. Eventually the horse figures out it’s just as easy to follow you around.  The following pictures are some of Cobain his first halter breaking lesson.

Apply PressureRelease

Pressure

Release

Apply, notice that the rope is tight, but I’m not “pulling” on Cobain.  I’m just applying enough pressure to let him know I want him to come forward.

Release.  Your movements don’t have to be big.  You can see here the rope isn’t tight.  That means that I’m not applying pressure.

Cobain is a smart little guy.  He relaxed in just a couple of minutes and started just following me around.  Notice in the picture how low his head is and how his ears are sideways.  When that head drops like this you know your horse is relaxing and understanding what you are doing.

Halter breaking colts this way I haven’t ran into too many problems.  But because they are living creatures and have a mind of their own there is always a chance of something going wrong.  I’ve had horses before that would pull back when you put pressure on the rope.  In that case you just keep on  applying pressure till you get any forward movement.  The process is the same, it’s just a little more difficult.  I’ve also had horses that wanted to charge past me.  In that case I constantly switch directions,  working more in circles than straight lines.

By using this method to halter break your colt, you help him get his mind in the right frame for his other training.  He will figure out that when you are applying pressure to him, you are looking for him to do something, and he will start to search for the answer to the question “what does this person want me to do?”  When you get your horse so he’s looking to answer that question, he is in the right frame of mind to learn.

 

Desensitizing — Sacking Out

When I first start messing with my colts I like to really desensitize them to everything I can think of.  Horses are prey animals and are always on alert that something may be coming to eat them.  I want to expose my horses to as much as possible so they will be less likely to spook later on.

I like to start by desensitizing my colts to the everyday tools I will be using.  I take the object I’m desensitizing my horse to and first let him sniff it.  The first object I usually use is my lead rope.  I  rub him on the forehead with the rope, and once he relaxes and doesn’t seem to mind the rope touching his head, I rub the rope down his neck.  I then proceed to rub the rope all over his body.  If I come to a place that he is starting to act a little spooky, I just move back to a place where he was relaxed.  Let’s say you are rubbing his neck with a rope, and he is nice and relaxed with that.  Then when you start to move down his shoulder onto his leg he starts to move around.  I simply go back to rubbing the rope on his neck and work my way back down to his shoulder then onto his leg.  Again if he starts to act up go back to rubbing his neck.  Eventually he will be okay with the rope touching his legs.  You also need to make sure to desensitize you horse to everything on both sides.  Something may be okay with your horse on one side and completely freak him out on the other.  The following pictures are of me desensitizing Cobain to a rope.  Notice how in the first couple pictures he looks a little unsure.  Then in the bottom picture he seems completely relaxed.  It is at this point I will either quit for the day or move on to another object to desensitize him to.

Every time I introduce my horse to something new I go through the same process.  I let him sniff it.  I rub his face with it.  Then starting at the neck I rub it all over his body.  I feel that desensitizing is a very important part of training and is a step that your horse can never get too much of.

Here I’m desensitizing Cobain to a brush.  Because Cobain was born in the wild, everything he sees he thinks is a potential threat.



Next I desensitize him to a saddle blanket.

I can’t stress how important it is to desensitize young horses to as many different things as you can.  While you can’t expose them to everything,  the more you do expose them to the better horse you will have.  Take your time in during the desensitizing process,  the results will be well worth the effort you put into it.

In the Beginning

People have many different ways of gentling and training their colts.  Not every method works with every horse, and not every method works with every person.  Because the horse I am using for this process is a mustang that was born in the wild, I will be using methods that won’t make him feel trapped or in danger.   If I put too much pressure on him, he will feel captured.  At that point he will only have escaping on his mind and won’t be in learning mode.

I actually have been extremely busy this first week that I have owned Cobain, my 2 yr old mustang, gelding, so I haven’t been able to spend much time with him.  But I have taken several steps to get him ready to be worked with.

When I picked him up at the BLM, Bureau of Land Management, they ran him through a shoot to load him into my trailer.  While he was in the shoot I had one of the BLM employees slip a halter on him so that would be one less step for me.  Because this halter is going to be left on Cobain for several weeks, I selected a nylon halter.  I love rope halters for training horses, but I find them dangerous to leave on a horse full time.  You also want your halter to be well fitted, so it won’t slip off of your horse, or he get a leg caught in it if he reaches to scratch his face.  Cobain has a smaller head for a mustang so I ended up using a halter for a horse 500-800 pounds.  It fits perfectly.

Because my resources allow it, I have placed my colt in a pen that is away from other horses.  This will help him bond more quickly to me.  The pen is constructed of heavy duty panels.  The pen is about 50 feet in diameter and is attached to a small barn so Cobain can get out of the weather.   I do not leave a bale of hay in the pen that he can eat off of when ever he wants.  I pitch hay to him twice a day.  This actually is important.  By me coming out to pitch hay to him, he recognized that I am a source of food for him, and he gets excited to see me.  Also it forces me to make an appearance twice a day.  I figure the more Cobain sees me, the better he will know me.

I like to get my horses trusting me and wanting to come to me.  I like to give them a little grain from my hand to get them wanting to see me.  I know some people disagree with this, but they can start their own blog on how to do it their way.  Because Cobain had never had grain, I had to get him use to eating it before he would even consider eating it out of my hand.  To do this,  Cobain’s first few days at my place I put grain in a grain tub for him.  The first time I just put the grain in the tub and left the pen.  The next time I put grain in the tub and messed around in the pen.  Then the next couple of times I put grain in the tub and stood a few feet from the tub.  Now he loves grain.  Here is where I add a catch.  He only gets grain if he will eat it out of my hand.  He knows the bucket grain comes in, and the first time it took him a little while to actually take some from my hand, but now he will come right up and get the grain from me every time.  As I feed him grain with one hand, I will take my other hand and rub his face.  He is now starting to let me rub his face when I don’t have grain and will come check me out when I come in the pen.

Another part of training I’ve been doing with Cobain is a little round pen work.  Because my family has had such a busy schedule the last week, I haven’t done as much round pen work as I would have liked to with Cobain, but he is such a smart little guy and is catching on quickly.   When I first do round pen work with colts, they are “at liberty”.  Which basically means I don’t have a rope on them and they can go where they like.

I would like to mention that parts of this process would be slightly different if the horse that I would be working with was some what tame.  These are the steps that I use on a horse that has never been around people.  I have found that this process works best for me in most situations as building trust of the horse.

In the Round Pen

The only equipment you need for this first process is a lunge whip or a stick and string. I use a lunge whip because it’s what I have,  I don’t whip the horse with it.   I basically use it as an extension of my arm.

To start I will ask the colt to move.  Now Cobain has not ever really been handled so to get him to move, I just walk towards him a little and he starts to go. If your horse is a little reluctant to go you can move your arms a little, click to them or whatever it takes to get them traveling around the pen.  I then quit moving and just let the horse go until they stop.  When they stop moving I take a step or two backwards to see it I can get the horse to turn towards me.  If they turn towards me I let them stand  until they turn away, then I ask them to move again, and continue to repeat the process over again several times.  If the horse doesn’t turn towards me I make them move out again right away and keep repeating the process until they turn towards me.

The second thing I like to do while my colt is at liberty is to get him a little desensitized.  To do this I will swing the tail end of my lunge whip, or the string of a stick and string, up over my horse’s back.  The horse will probably take off running around the pen.  That’s okay. Try to keep the whip riding on the horse’s back if it falls off swing it back onto him.  Eventually the horse will stop and stand still.  When he does so, immediately remove the whip from his back and let him stand a few seconds.  Then repeat by swinging the tail end of the whip back onto his back and wait for him to stop moving.  The goal here is to get it so you can swing the tail end of the whip onto him without him moving.  Some horses will figure this out more quickly than others.  Don’t give up eventually every horse will figure out what you are looking for.  I continue this exercise daily until I can go out and throw the end of the whip over the horse and he doesn’t move the first time I try it.  (If working with a horse that is halter broke and willing to let you touch him, I start out by just rubbing him all over with the whip until he lets me touch him everywhere with it.)

Cobain figured out really fast that if turns and faces you, you will quit swinging the whip at him.  Here you can see the tail of the whip hanging over Cobain’s back.  He’s facing Dan, and Dan offers him a “hand shake”.

After I get my horse so he is standing when I am tossing the whip over his back, I start to rub the stiff part of the whip on his back.  I will rub it on him and try to work my way closer to him until I am actually touching him with my hand that is holding the whip.  To start I usually can rub him with the end without much problem, but as I get closer to touching him with my hand I can see he starts to get nervous.  At that point I will back off to a point where I can see him relax and try to work my way closer.    Eventually I will get to where I can touch him without first using the whip.  Just like everything, some horses will except you getting close to them faster than others.  If you want it done right take your time and let your horse be the one who tells you he’s ready for the next step.

For the next part of my round pen work, I use a 20 foot cotton lead rope with a bull snap on the end.  This is one of the tools I use most during training so I highly recommend buying on.  I prefer the bull snap to other snaps mainly because they are very strong and will hold up to just about anything.  And I recommend buying ropes that the rope is braided back through itself where the snap is fastened on.  Ropes that just have clamps holding the snap on tend to break easily.  I prefer the cotton to nylon because it won’t create burns as easily on you or your horse as the nylon will.  I have tried the colored cotton ropes, but I think that the coloring must make the ropes more fragile because they seem to break easier.  (Starting to sound like I break a lot of stuff, huh?)  Anyway, the rope pictured is the type I prefer.

With this rope you will basically go through the same process that you did with the whip.  This will help get your horse desensitized from the
rope.  You will HOLD ONTO THE CLASP END and throw the loose end over your horse’s back.  Your horse will probably start running around, and you will hold the clasp end of the rope and let the other end ride on your horse.  If it falls off toss it back on the horse.  When your horse stops running, pull the rope off of his back.  Repeat until your horse just stands and lets you toss the rope onto his back.  Eventually you want to get where he accepts the rope sitting on his back, and he will let you come up and pet him. (The process here with a tame horse would be to rub him all over with the rope then proceed to swing it onto him. Because the horse we are working with isn’t tame, he probably won’t let you get near him with a rope until he figures out it isn’t going to eat him.)

Here Cobain has started to relax and is facing Dan.  As a reward Dan will let Cobain stand for a few minutes before moving on.

I really feel that it is important to do these exercises with any colt you are starting.  They really help desensitize the colt to sudden movements and help them realize that you aren’t going to hurt them.  I repeat and repeat every exercise I do with my colts until they will stand relaxed while I performing whatever exercise we happen to be working on at the time.

Riding a Legend!!!!

Mustang.  The word itself just excites me.  When I hear that word I think of the Wild West and of cowboys and Indians.  I think of the untamed spirit of an animal that runs free with the wind.  Recently I adopted a mustang.  My goal is to gentle and ride him.

If you are unfamiliar with what a mustang is, let me explain it to you.  A mustang is a feral horse.  Some people will refer to them as wild horses, but mustangs are technically feral horses.  Feral mean that the animal, a horse in this case, has escaped from its domestic home and it has been on its own long enough it is now living as a wild animal.

Mustangs are horses that are not native to the Americas.  All the wild horses that had lived in the Americas died out in the last ice age.  The mustangs that roam here are mainly derived from horses that escaped from the Spanish when they settled in Florida and Mexico.  Over time ranchers wanted to cultivate the herds to fit their preferences, so they would kill the dominate stallions of the herds and release their prize stallions out to breed the mustang mares.

Most of the original mustang were descendants of  Andalusian, Arabian, and Barb breeds of horses.  However over time many other breeds have been added to the mix, and various herds of mustangs show evidence of Thorough bred horses, draft horses, and several other light breeds of horses.

Over the years mustangs have been captured and used in various ways.  The Native Americans captured them and used them for hunting and transportation.  The military used them for food.  And at one point in U.S. history they were even captured and used to make pet food.

The mustangs today are protected under law, but they have disappeared from  several states where they once roamed.  Nevada is home to over half of all the mustangs in the U.S.  Other states that have significant populations of wild horses are Wyoming, Oregon, Montana, and California.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is responsible for controlling the number of animals that remain in the wild.  The country side can sustain only so many.  If they are allowed to over populate they will run themselves out of food and habitat.  The horses that the BLM gather from the wild are moved to holding facilities where they are put up for adoption.  Of coarse there are always more animals available for adoption than people willing to adopt, so the BLM is trying to decide what to do with the excess horses.

When I was 12 my dad bought me a horse that was out of a mustang mare.  I broke the horse myself, and it was the best horse I ever had.  I’m just starting on my adventure with my new little mustang.  I’m sure he’s going to be the second best horse ever.  You can follow my progress on here.  I will be posting photos and videos on my step by step process of gentling my mustang.

For more information on adopting a mustang check out the BLM’s website. You can adopt horses on line or go to a holding facility near you and pick one out today.

Parts of the Saddle

Listed are the parts of a western saddle.  Some people may use slightly different terminology for some parts, for example what I call a cinch others may call a girth, or what I call a billet may also be referred to as a latigo or a tie strap.  Either way is correct.  Also this saddle is equipped with a breast collar and a rear cinch, many saddles may not have these or may have one or the other of them.  That is fine.  They are really extra pieces used to give the saddle more stability depending on what you are doing.

Selecting a Headstall

Trying to decide on a headstall for your horse now a day can cause some major anxiety.  Your choices go way beyond the single ear or the brow band style that I had to make as a kid.  Should you get one with a cow hide or crystal inlay, one with zebra stripes or giraffe spots, crosses or star conchos, or maybe the conchos with six shooters on them?  The new one I think I want is a brow band style bridle with Turquoise and Brown floral print ocerlay with copper spur conchos and nail heads.  It is just the coolest and would look great on Dollar.  It could be mine for only $259.95.  Before you get your credit card out and make that purchase, let’s go over some headstall basics.

For starters what exactly is a headstall?  A headstall is basically the part of the bridle that goes around your horse’s head and is designed to hold your bit or bosal in place.  Manufactures have been very creative over the years and have redesigned the headstall over and over again.  Really not making it any more effective, but making it more attractive.

When selecting which headstall would be best for you, you really need to take in consideration the type of riding you will be doing, the temperament of your horse, and your budget.

Basic Headstall Types

When looking at headstalls there are basically three main types:  brow band, single ear and two ear.  A brow band headstall has a band that crosses the horses “brow” or forehead.

A single ear headstall has a loop that goes around one of the horses ears.  There are several varieties of single ear headstalls.  The most common today is the sliding loop.  The advantage to this is that you can slide the loop to fit around the ear perfectly. There is also a slide ear that has a little piece of latigo that goes around the ear to hold the headstall in place, and a slip or slotted ear that simply has a slot in the leather for the horse’s ear to go into.

Two ear headstalls are similar to the one ear headstalls, but they have a slot for each of your horse’s ears to go into.  These are most commonly used in showing.  And this year they have even put a new twist on the two ear headstalls and make cross-crown head stalls.  These are the hot new items for showing this season.  They have two slots for the horse’s ears and they cross in the middle of the horse’s foretop.

Type of Riding

The type of riding you do should play a major role in they type of headstall you choose.  If you just ride for fun on the weekends and don’t do anything real intense then you could use any type of headstall you want.  However, if you are riding colts or doing heavy work on your horse, I suggest that you use a brow band headstall for the simple fact that they tend to stay in place better than most.  The other thing about a brow band headstall is that they are typically equipped with a throat latch.  This will prevent the headstall from slipping off of your horse’s head.  The single ear headstalls are starting to move away from having a throat latch on them, which to me seems like a major hazard if you are anywhere out in the open or on a young horse. Without the throat latch, it is easy for the bridle to slip right off the horse, leaving you with no real control of the horse.  Two eared bridles are typically designed for showing although I do have one that is just plain leather.  Like many of the one eared headstalls, the two eared bridle is usually not equipped with at throat latch, so I recommend using it only for arena work.

Temperament of Horse

The temperament of the horse can make a difference to me which type of bridle to use.  If I’m riding a really mellow, broke horse, I don’t mind not having a bridle without a throat latch on it.  However, if I’m riding a horse that rubs on things or tosses his head around, I definitely want a bridle with a throat latch on it.

Budget

Budget can really put a damper on which headstall you choose.  If you have a small budget and don’t ride too often, you probably don’t need a really fancy headstall.  There are some pretty cool ones out there, but if you don’t have the means to pay for them, you should stick to something basic.  A plain headstall, new starts right around $30 for leather, less for nylon.  Fancy headstalls go for just about any price you can imagine.  I’ve actually seen headstalls that cost over $1000.  You do need to be aware that if you are shopping on line, sometimes pictures make a headstall seem nicer than it actually is.  My rule is that if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.  There are many people out there selling “silver show” equipment that cheap tin and painted (not oiled) leather.  Also if you have a slim budget you can look at buying used tack.  Leather can last forever, and sometimes people get tired of their headstalls before they are even near wore out.  I have found many deals on tack in consignment shops and on ebay.  You just need to keep your eyes open and shop around.

There are thousands of choices out there when it comes to choosing a headstall for your horse.  Take some time and shop around to find the one that best fits your riding style and your horse.  And if you happen to run into this headstall (click for link) my birthday is in December. 🙂

 

 

Getting in Rhythm with the Feet

To become an outstanding horse person, you need to understand how your horse’s body works and how your horse moves.  Each gate your horse travels on requires your horse’s feet to move with a different beat.  Along with this change in beat comes a difference in weight distribution on your horse’s front and hind ends.  Hopefully this article will help you better understand your horse’s movement and help you “Get in Rhythm with the Feet”.

Your horse basically has five gates in which it travels: walk, trot, canter (lope), gallop and back-up.  Now we are just talking about average horses here.  Gaited horses travel differently and we aren’t going to try to cover that here.  By knowing how where your horse’s feet are in each gate, you can become a better partner with your horse and help him better maintain his natural balance.

Walk

The walk is a four beat gait in which your horse will care 60% of his weight on his front end and 40% on his back end.  When riding at a walk I try not to lean forward and sit in the seat. Doing this will help your horse by not adding unnecessary weight to his front end.  Counting the beats of the walk go like this 1. right back, 2. right front, 3. left back, 4. left front.  (By the way you are not aloud to make fun of my drawings)

Trot

In the trot your horses feet work in diagonal pairs making it a two beat step.  The beat of this gait goes 1. right hind – left front 2. left hind –  right front.  In the trot your horse will carry his weight equally on his front and back ends.  To make it easier on myself and my horse I like to post when I trot.  I stand when the right hind foot lifts and sit when the left hind lifts.  If you show western style horses you will need to learn to sit a trot.  When I sit a trot I just try to let my hips rock with my horse’s back.  When he lifts his left hind leg my left hip slightly rises, and my right hip rises with his right leg. If your horse has a rough trot you may want to stand if you are trotting a distance.

Canter or Lope

When your horse canters, the majority of his weight, about 60%, shifts to the back end.  We count the lope  starting with the opposite hind leg than the lead we are in.  If we are going to be in the right lead, we start on the left hind leg. Our count will go like this 1. left back, 2. right front, 3. right hind and left front, then a pause while all feet are suspended.

Galloping

In a gallop your horse will be running pretty hard.  In this gait only one of his feet will be touching the ground at a time.  Then like the canter, he will have a moment of suspension.   Just to save you from more of my drawings, refer to the pictures of the canter,  but instead of his right hind and left front feet touching the ground at the same time they will hit the ground first the right hind then the left front.  Counting the beats of the gallop in the right lead go like this 1. left back, 2. right back, 3. left front, 4. right front, then a moment of suspension.

Backing

Like the trot, the back is a two beat gait.  As your horse backs the opposite front and back legs hit the grounds. Count in the beats of the trot will go 1. right front – left back 2. left front – right back.

As you progress as a rider, you will find more importance on knowing where your horse’s feet are.  By knowing where they are and how your horse’s body works, you will be better able to work as a partner with your horse when learning new maneuvers.  As you ride try to see if you are able to pick out the rhythm of your horse’s feet.Pictures is Emily Thompson riding her paint Nehi Charm.  They are on beat one of the canter.


It’s All in the Release

When training your horse, it’s hard to not get impatient and try to force your horse to do what you want him to do.  But lets face it  horses average some where around 1200 pounds, and there is no way you are going to make him do anything he doesn’t want to.  I think it is easy for us to get caught up in trying to cue our horse and press them into doing what we want.  But in all honesty the horse doesn’t learn when we apply pressure.  He learns when we release the pressure.

No mater what I’m trying to get my horse to do, I follow this simple pattern. I ask until the horse makes the slightest effort to do what I want him to do.  As soon as he makes a try in the right direction, I quit asking and let him rest a second.  This is the point where your horse’s head starts working.

Let’s say we want to longe our horse.  One of the first things we need the horse to do here is turn his shoulder away from us.  So we apply pressure to the horse by swinging a rope at his shoulder. The second the horse starts to make even the slightest effort to turn you need to stop swinging the rope.  At this point your horse thinks, “hey that person was swinging the rope at me, and when I started to turn the person quit swinging the rope”.

Again you will swing the rope at the horse’s shoulder.  Because you released pressure before when the horse move away from the swinging, your horse may make a bigger effort to turn.  Once again the second your horse starts to turn release pressure.  Now your horse is thinking “yeah I’m pretty sure that that person wants me to move.  When I started to move again he stopped swinging that rope.” At this point your horse is probably starting to lick and chew a little.

Now that the horse is starting to get the idea, you can apply a little more pressure and see if you can get the horse to actually take a step in the right direction.  After you get a step, release pressure.  You will repeat this until he takes that one step with very little pressure.  Then you will increase pressure again working toward two steps.

This method works with pretty much anything you want to train your horse to do.  I use it to get my horses to cross bridges, spin, flex, anything.  The key is to develop good timing and release all pressure at the slightest try from your horse.  Eventually your horse will recognize that you are asking him to do something and try to find the answer to get you to release pressure.

Sounds pretty simple, right?  Well here’s where it gets tricky.  Let’s say you are wanting your horse to turn left.  You apply your pressure and instead of left your horse turns right.  Frustrated you stop applying pressure and straighten your horse so you can start over again.  Now you’ve just taught your horse to do the exact opposite of what you wanted him to do.  You must remember to continue to apply pressure until the horse makes an effort in the correct direction.  If he starts to go the wrong way, you can not stop applying pressure, in fact you could even increase pressure to discourage your horse from doing the wrong thing. Then when he makes a try at the right direction, release.

Training your horse can be made more simple if you can recognize when your horse makes an effort to do the right thing, and you reward him for that effort by releasing any pressure you may be applying to him.  When you are working with your horse try to remember that your horse doesn’t learn when you are applying a cue, but when you stop applying it.In this picture, I have Dollar’s head almost touching the ground.  There is no way I could pull his head to the ground.  To get him to do this I would apply and release pressure on his poll and nose until he realized what I wanted.  Once he got the picture he lowered his head.

 

 

Flexing at the Poll-Using Aids

In today’s world of horses, we are told to soften our horse’s face or to collect our horse.  Or we often wonder how do those people get their horses to carry their heads so low.  Any of these start with teaching your horse to flex at the poll.  For someone who is just learning how to train a horse, this can be pretty tricky to do.  Teaching a horse to break at the poll without any aids takes a lot of practice.  In this post I will tell you about several different riding aids a person can use to help them teach their horse to flex at the poll.

Draw Reins

When I was training my first horse I used Draw Reins to help me teach him headset.   There are many different styles of draw reins, and different trainers each have their opinion on how to use them.  Basically, draw reins are a continuous line that runs from one side of your cinch, through the bit, to your hands, back through the other side of the bit and to the other side of the cinch.  They really are a  single movable pulley.    When you pull your hands back it causes the horses head to move inward and down.  I recommend only using draw reins with a mild snaffle bit.  Also because draw reins don’t offer much in the line of stopping power, I like to pair them up with a regular set of reins.  Where a person connects the draw reins to their cinch depends on the individual and the style of draw reins they are using.  I’ve seen people hook them to the  center D-Ring of the cinch, running the reins between the horse’s front legs.  I’ve seen them hook to the rigging of the saddle where the cinch fastens to the saddle.  I personally prefer to hook them to the center of the cinch, but run them around the outside of my horse’s legs.  By using them this way, as the horse walks it bumps the reins.  Therefore, when I ride without the draw reins, if I need my horse to lower his head, I can simply bump the reins in rhythm with his steps.  (The draw reins pictured above are ones I made.  I just took a piece of yacht rope and fastened snaps on the ends. Notice that the pony is flexing at the poll and the front of his face is vertical.)

Training Fork and Running Martingale

These are two similar devices.  The training fork is primarily for western disciplines and the running martingale is used mainly for English riding.  The only real difference is that the martingale has a neck strap that goes around the horse’s neck.

To use either of these you simply fasten them to the center of your cinch (or girth) between the horse’s front legs.  If you are using a martingale, you will fasten the neck strap around the neck of the horse. And finally you run your reins through the rings and then up to you.

These devices work by creating leverage through the reins on the bit and on the bars of your horse’s mouth.  This happens when the horse raises his head too high.  The pressure encourages the horse to lower his head.

Running Martingale

Training Fork

German Martingale

The final aid used in teaching the horse to flex at the poll, I would like to tell you about is the German Martingale.  This type of martingale works in much the same way that draw reins do.  You have rope (or some have leather straps) that runs through the bit to create a pulley.  Unlike the draw reins, the rope on the German Martingale then fastens to rings on the reins.  Because these reins are attached to the bit you have a little more control of your horse than you would if you were just using draw reins.  When you have slack in your reins, the draw rein part of the martingale is working to help lower your horses head.

The German Martingale has four parts: the chest strap, which fastens to the center ring on your cinch; the neck strap, which goes around your horse’s neck; the draw rein, which runs through your bit and then you have the reins, which have rings on which to fasten your draw reins.

Pictured is Dollar with the German Martingale on.  In the second picture you can see that he has dropped his head, and it is now vertical.  The German Martingale should only be used with a ringed snaffle.  (Dollar is pictured with a curb bit, but the picture was taken to show how the martingale operates. Please if you decide to use a German Martingale, use it only with a snaffle bit.)

There are many different training aids on the market.  I think that before you run out and buy any of these, that you should try to borrow one see if  that particular aid will work for you.  Training aids can be great tools when used correctly. If you are uncertain if you are using any equipment correctly, ask a trainer or someone with more experience.  If you have any questions about these training aids or anything else, feel free to ask questions in the Forum section of this website.