Wouldn’t it be nice to train your horse to relax? That way when you encounter the scary herd of cattle, the flock of wild turkeys or a package dangling from a mailbox you could calm your horse down before you were in the next county.
That’s why many people train their horse to lower its head on command. Ever notice the correlation between anxiety and a horse’s head position? When a horse is on alert or anxious, its neck is vertical and its head is high. I’ve certainly experienced a few “giraffe” moments when my horse’s neck seems to have gotten a foot longer and his brain has checked out.
A horse that’s relaxed its head and neck are more horizontal. Just moving in
to this alignment will relax the horse’s neck and chest muscles. Often once a horse lowers its neck (starting at the seventh vertebrae) you’ll also see it lick and chew, which are other signs of relaxation.
You can teach your horse to lower its head on cue with relatively simple steps. Start while you’re on the ground, then try it under saddle.
Start in a quiet, familiar location and make sure you are not in a hurry. The first time you try this you want to take as much time as you need.
Then, with your horse wearing a halter and lead rope, stand beside him, and assert mild downward pressure on the lead rope. The pressures should be continuous and straight down (it should be about 1 pound of pressure). Alternatively, put your hand on your horse’s poll and apply light pressure (some horses object to poll pressure and will raise their heads too high for this method to be effective).
Maintain the pressure until your horse lowers its head. It doesn’t need to be much, just a little movement. As soon as he lowers his head, praise him and release the pressure on the rope. After praising him, ask him to lower his head again.
Rinse and repeat until he responds instantly and understands that downward pressure on his halter means to lower his head. If you want him to drop his head lower, then repeat the cue once he’s made the initial response until he’s got his head at the height you want.
Next, take your horse to a busier location and ask him again. It may take him awhile to remember the command when he’s distracted. Keep working with him until he can consistently lower his head.
Here are some sample videos. None of them perfectly illustrate the procedure, but they are helpful.
Tomorrow I’ll cover teaching your horse to lower its head when you’re mounted.