Dropping his Head

08/29/14

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Dropping his Head

 

 

 
 

 

This information is provided to educate our visitors.  Special thanks to Clinton Anderson, the author of this information.

Dropping Head Cue

OBJECTIVE

The objective of this lesson is to teach the horse to lower its head when pressure is applied to the poll. Using our fingers, or halter pressure, we want the horse to lower its head and neck to whatever height asked in a relaxed manner, with a submissive look on his face.

WHY DO WE WANT THIS?

We want to be able to do this is because it helps when haltering or bridling, and it helps keep him more relaxed and submissive. How many times have you felt that you had to stand on your tiptoes to halter or bridle? Wouldn't it be nice to have your horse lower his head to your belt line, enabling you to gently put the halter or bridle on? It also helps the horse understand that pressure behind his ears, on his poll area, means he should submit and give to the pressure, rather than pull against it and panic. This exercise is particularly useful for horses that do not like to be tied.

GETTING STARTED - THE TEACHING PHASE

What we eventually want the horse to do is, as soon as he feels pressure on his poll from two fingers, he immediately softens his head and neck and lowers it to whatever level we ask. Where we place our fingers is not really that important; but as a general rule, there is a hard lump of bone between the horse's ears. Just about an inch behind that spot is where I want to put my thumb and index finger - then press with my fingertips on either side of the mane. My fingers will be about an inch apart. I then apply pressure with my fingers - kind of like I'm pinching the horse's mane together. This is an uncomfortable feeling on the horse's mane and skin. What I want him to do is lower his head and reward himself by moving away from that pressure.

Now, if I keep that pressure on, he should keep lowering his head until it gets to the ground. If I take it off, he should stay at that level until I ask him to either bring his head up or lower it further. Eventually, what we want is for the horse to become so light and sensitive, that as soon as we touch the poll gently with one finger, he immediately lowers his head. He will also learn to do this when pressure is applied by the halter and lead rope; thus when pressure is felt from the halter behind his ears, he will lower his head.

I want my horse to drop his head in a relaxed manner when I approach with a halter. Once I have taught him to drop his head, it soon becomes a habit everytime I halter or bridle. Eventually, when I enter the stall, the first thing they do is lower their head. If you do not halter or bridle until your horse lowers his head every single time, it will soon become a habit for your horse, too. Pretty soon, you won't have to ask him to lower his head; he will offer it by himself.

Now, we have described what we want to see happen and what the horse should do. Realistically, this is not going to happen on the first try. The equipment you will use is a rope halter and a lead rope. I like to use a rope halter for this because I find that the horse doesn't lean on it nearly as much; but a traditional webbed halter will also work. The lead rope should be 10-14 feet long.

In the beginning, stand on your horse's near side. Place your left fingers slightly inside the cheek piece of the halter and hold it. Be careful not to place your whole hand or arm inside the halter, in case he should rear up or run away, to avoid being caught in the halter. Your right hand will be used to apply pressure to the horse's poll.

The reason you should hold the halter with your left hand is because in the beginning most horses will start to resist when you apply pressure to their poll. They may throw their head around, lift it up in the air or shake it from side to side. Occasionally, you may get a horse that is very disrespectful or resistant. When he is trying to avoid dropping his head, he may accidentally move around vigorously; and you don't want him to smack you in the face with his head.

When you apply pressure to the horse's poll, you will do so very lightly in the beginning. I start off with the lightest amount of pressure possible - just touching the hair with two fingers. If the horse does not respond by lowering his head, I will increase that pressure and I will press with my two fingers as if pinching him. If the horse still does not respond by lowering his head, I will dig my fingers in a little bit, adding more pressure. I will continue to dig my fingers in harder and harder until eventually it's uncomfortable enough for the horse and he tries to relieve himself.

In the beginning, he will probably throw his head up or side to side and generally resist. When he does this, try not to stop him from resisting you. All you need to do is maintain the pressure above his poll until he lowers his head. In the beginning, when he lowers his head, he may just lower it a half-inch. As soon as he does this, it is very important that you immediately take your right hand away from the horse for at least two or three seconds. Act like the horse is burning your hand - like you touched a frying pan - and you quickly take your hand away. The quicker you can remove the pressure from your hand when the horse responds by lowering his head, the quicker he will realize that when he submits and lowers his head, the pressure is removed immediately. Then place your right hand between the horse's ears and gently rub him with your hand. That lets him know that your hand is not going to make him feel uncomfortable every time it touches him.

So rub the horse for two or three seconds and then repeat the procedure. Keep repeating this exercise over and over again; and you will be amazed at how quickly your horse understands that when he feels pressure from your two fingers on his poll area, the only escape from pressure is to lower his head. As soon as he lowers his head, you must immediately take the pressure away. Usually, after five or six minutes, most horses will understand that just a slight pressure from your fingers means he should lower his head all the way to the ground.

The key to this exercise is to do a little step at a time and to reward the slightest try. Every time your horse tries to drop his head, take your fingers away and then rub him. Do it in that order: apply pressure, he releases, you take your hand away, wait two or three seconds and then rub him.

If you neglect the part of rubbing him with your hand, some horses will become defensive and every time you touch them with your fingers on their poll, they will automatically think they may become more defensive and afraid. So, it is very important to let them know that you only want them to lower their head when they feel steady pressure. When they just feel your hand rubbing, it means relax.

In the beginning, expect resistance. The biggest mistake people make is trying to push the horse's head down lower once he begins to lower it on his own. Act like your horse is lifting his head up and actually pushing into your fingers. Then, when he lowers away from your fingers, you do not keep pushing downward. Your hand should actually do the opposite and go away from the horse's head.

COMMON MISTAKES

  1. People try to push the horse's head down.

What you are trying to do is apply pressure to the poll area and let him figure out that lowering his head will get him away from that pressure.

  1. Too much pressure is applied too quickly.

Start gently, and then slowly start to pinch your fingers and make it more and more uncomfortable every couple of seconds until, finally after five or six seconds, you are applying quite a bit of pressure to your horse's poll.

  1. The handler releases the pressure when the horse is resisting or becoming defensive.

Every time the horse throws his head up in the air or resists you, and you take your fingers away, you are teaching him that all he has to do is resist to get away from the pressure. Every time he lowers his head and you remove the pressure, you are teaching him to lower his head to be rewarded.

  1. Your horse seems to ignore you and doesn't want to lower his head.

You may not be adding enough pressure to make it uncomfortable enough for him. Remember, horses learn through comfort versus discomfort. You have to be very consistent with your rewards, as well as making it uncomfortable for your horse when he does the wrong things.

DROPPING THE HEAD - PHASE TWO

Once your horse is consistently lowering his head from light pressure - barely touching with your two fingers above his poll - you must now start teaching the horse to do the same exercise with a halter and lead rope. Every time you pull down on the lead rope or apply pressure, he should immediately follow that pressure and lower his head. This should come very easily if you have done your homework and haven't cheated in the Teaching Phase. If you haven't gotten the horse lowering consistently, don't go to Phase Two. It will take a lot longer and you won't get the results you are looking for.

In the beginning, I like to use a rope halter because it is more uncomfortable for your horse to lean against. Start out by applying downward pressure with both hands just below the snap. As in the Teaching Phase, don't try to pull the horse's head down. Act like you are applying pressure, and he is lowering to that pressure.

Apply both hands to the lead rope and increase the pressure to the halter by pulling downwards, maybe one or two ounces, and maintain that same pull. Wait there; and as soon as the horse lowers his head, immediately take both hands off the rope and rub him. The quicker you release your hands, the quicker your horse will feel the release from the lead rope. What most people do, unfortunately, is when the horse lowers its head, they keep pulling the rope down. Remember, don't think "pull" - think "set up the pressure and wait for him to release to it." Once his head is down, rub him on the face and reward him. Do this over and over again.

If your horse ignores you, start to add a little bit more pressure to the lead rope - just keep adding a little bit of pressure every couple of seconds to make it more uncomfortable. If your horse lifts his head up when you apply pressure to the lead rope, that's fine. Some horses will do that in the beginning. Just go with him kind of like a yo-yo, but try not to release the pressure on the halter. Even if he raises his head up, go up and down with him but keep the pressure there. Every single time he drops his head, however, even a little bit, release that pressure instantly. Act like the rope is burning and take your hands away. Then rub him. It won't take him very long to know that when he feels the halter pressure over his poll area, he should immediately lower his head.

Every single time your horse picks up his head and neck without being asked, apply pressure to the lead rope and wait for him to drop it back down. As soon as he drops it, take the pressure off the lead rope again. This will teach him to stay at whatever level you want. If you don't tell him to lift, he shouldn't lift his head.

Phase Two of this exercise will work very quickly if you have done your job right, you haven't cheated, and your horse understands the lesson of the Teaching Phase. So spend two or three days and do the Teaching Phase first. If you are having trouble with Phase Two, it is usually because you haven't done a good enough job in the Teaching Phase.

 

 

 

 

 

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