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.
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.
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.