This information is provided to educate our visitors. Special
thanks to Clinton Anderson, the author of this information.
Dropping Head Cue
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
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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The handler
releases the pressure when the horse is resisting or becoming
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.
- 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 -
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
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.