Flex Your Horse's Neck from the Ground

Teach your horse to flex through his neck from the ground and reap a cornucopia of benefits.
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Teach your horse to flex through his neck from the ground and reap a cornucopia of benefits.

To Get the Most from this Lesson

  • Before you begin, turn your horse out, work him in a round pen, or do some of my longeing for respect to get him relaxed and using the thinking side of his brain.
  • Outfit him in a rope halter, a lead and a saddle; later exchange the halter for a snaffle bridle. (For foals and weanlings, just use the halter and lead.)
  • Always conduct the lesson from both sides, remembering to start from scratch when you move to the other side.
  • Make this exercise part of your permanent routine. Flex your horse 10 times on each side whenever you first halter him, and again before you put him up for the day to keep him soft and submissive.

Are you willing to make a small investment of time and effort that will yield great returns? Then flex your horse's neck to both sides on a regular basis. This simple exercise will make your horse lighter and more responsive, improve his steering and teach (or reinforce) the concept of yielding to pressure. It'll also help him lead and tie better.

And that's not all. Flexing regularly will also relax him and boost his submissiveness. If you do it at the start of every day, it's like shaking hands with your horse and saying, "Remember, now, when I pull, you give." It sets a tone.

| Photos by Darrell Dodds

| Photos by Darrell Dodds

The earlier you start teaching it, the better. Foals, weanlings and yearlings all benefit. But it's also a great way to help older, stiffer horses become more responsive partners.

I'll teach you how to flex your horse from the ground using a halter and then a snaffle bridle. Then I'll show you how to continue this training from the saddle.

You'll start by drawing on the lead rope (and later the rein) to ask for just a slight bend in your horse's neck. You'll hold the tension until he stands still and "gives" to create a tiny bit of slack in the line. At that instant you'll pitch him lots of slack, praise him, and let him rest with his neck straight. Then you'll repeat the exercise, asking for more bend in small increments
until your horse's nose can touch his side.

Most horses can achieve this much flexibility on the first day; older, stiffer horses may take several lessons over several days.

1. With your horse in a halter, stand facing him, next to his barrel. Hold the lead in both hands. With the hand closest to his head, draw on the lead to bring your horse's head slightly around toward you, moving your hand up toward the back of the saddle horn (or your young horse's withers). If he resists by raising his head, as my horse is here, or even backing up or spinning, just stay with him and keep the tension on the lead until...

2. ...his feet stop moving and you feel him "give" a tiny bit on the line, creating a bit of slack. It may seem as if it takes "forever" for your horse to stop and "give," but remember that even 30 seconds feels like a long time in this situation. Just stay with him until he submits. The instant he does...

3. ...pitch him complete slack by dropping the line from the hand closest to his head, and thrusting your other hand forward, toward his shoulder. Then allow him to stand at ease for five seconds before you continue. The timing and speed of your release are critical; the quicker and more completely you release the pressure, the quicker your horse will understand what you want, and the lighter he'll become. Repeat the sequence, drawing his head a little farther around each time, if possible getting him to touch the area near the girth at his elbow. Then move to the other side and repeat the entire sequence. When he's responsive in the halter...

4. ...replace the halter with a snaffle bridle and continue the lesson. Go back to asking for just a little bit of bend, and when your horse "gives" and creates some slack...

5. ...release the contact immediately. You want the rein to drop, not to be pulled through your hand. Once you've released the pressure...

6. ...allow your horse to stand relaxed with the rein draped for five seconds before proceeding.

7. Repeat the sequence several times, each time drawing your horse's head a bit farther, until he can touch or almost touch his girth area. Then go to his other side, and conduct the lesson over, again starting with just minimal bend, until he's equally flexible and responsive on both sides. Next I'll show you how to flex from the saddle.

Clinton Anderson travels around the country, presenting horsemanship clinics and headlining at horse expos.

This article originally appeared in the June 2006 issue of Horse & Rider magazine.