FOR BETTER BALANCE,
FORGET ABOUT YOUR HORSE'S HEADSET
Poll level with the withers. High-headed. Behind the vertical. Peanut roller. Above the bit. In the bridle. Headset. Headset. Headset.
Why are so many riders, regardless of discipline, so obsessed with the ways their horses hold their heads when working under saddle?
Pick up any horse publication, log on to any electronic forum, search the training articles of most professionals and you’re bound to see any number of references to “correct” headsets and, of course, the methods used to achieve that ideal. Open any tack catalog and you’ll see all kinds of gadgets that claim to create the perfect instant headset – side reins, longeing rigs, neck stretchers.
Enough already! This myth that a “frame” based on restricted movement of the head and neck equals correct or beautiful or even sound gaits puts the emphasis on doing the wrong things with the wrong parts of the body.
The way a horse needs to carry his neck and head for optimum balance depends on his conformation, his training, his fitness and soundless levels, and the work he is being asked to do. Period. And "work" means not only the discipline in which the horse is being asked to perform, but also the general act of carrying a rider and the specific issues created by that rider as regards skill level, balance, suppleness, feel and intention.
Just about anything that rider does to restrict the movement of the head and neck or to force it into a fixed position can only prevent the horse from achieving true self-carriage – the lightness, suppleness and ease of movement that are supposed to be the ideal sought in any discipline.
YOGA FOR YOUR HORSE
TEACH THOSE SHOULDERS TO REACH
Any horse that has spent any time working on the forehand - whether in-hand or ridden - likely has developed movement habits that restrict the free lifting of the front legs through the shoulder and limit lateral flexibility of the barrel. Even when that horse has started to learn to carry himself better, lifting his back and stepping through from behind, these habits may persist.
When a horse isn't moving correctly through the shoulder, the gaits will look and feel stiff instead of light and springy. When asked to step out a bit, the horse might hyper-extend like the top picture on the right, putting undue stress on the joints and creating an unnecessary amount of concussion in every step. (The bottom right picture shows how the foreleg looks when the shoulder lifts up and the joints maintain their shock-absorbing spring.)
Tight, bound-up ribs are often the source of tight shoulders. If the horse is holding his barrel rigid, the upper end of his scapula may not be able to glide back to allow his shoulder to lift and reach. In addition, a horse that bends laterally at the neck and not the ribcage will lack real impulsion because the spine will not maintain the necessary alignment to enable the hindquarters to propel the body easily.
DESERT HORSE RECOMMENDS:
WEB LINKS FOR THOUGHTFUL RIDERS
Biomechanical Riding and Dressage
Detailed articles and excellent illustrations of horse and rider anatomy in motion.
Compassionate Horse Training Knowledge Base of Tack & Equipment
Thoughtful articles on the use and misuse of many common training aids and gadgets