Here I'm working with a 7-year-old Appaloosa gelding. I’ll show you how to ask a horse to flex at the poll in response to rein pressure.
TO GET THE MOST FROM THIS CLINIC
• Before you begin, do a few groundwork exercises to get your horse relaxed and using the thinking side of his brain. The more ground work you do during the period you’re working on vertical flexion, the more quickly he’ll progress. Also review last month’s lesson on lateral bending to lower a head (find it this month at HorseandRider.com).
• Outfit your horse in a properly fitting snaffle bit. (If need be, ask for help to make sure neither bit nor tooth problems are factors in your horse’s heads-up response.)
• Be patient. Take whatever time is needed to teach your horse to flex at a standstill, then move up the gaits, always using enough leg pressure at the same time to let him know you don’t mean slow down—you mean “give.”
A horse that raises his head instead of offering vertical flexion is trying to escape the action of the bit. He may have had rough handling, tooth problems, or an ill-fitting bit at some point that created that response, but now it’s become a habit. Correcting it is a long-term process.
To be effective, the strategy I’ll show you this month must become a consistent routine until you recondition your horse’s response. Ultimately, you’ll teach him that if he “gives” to you by flexing at the poll when he feels you pick up the reins, you’ll always “give” to him by softening the rein pressure as a reward.
The method is straightforward but requires feeling hands, meaning the timing of your release is all-important. You’ll put pressure on the bit to ask your horse to soften to you, then release the pressure when he responds, then ask again, striving for a bit “more” over time.
I’ll demonstrate the method at a standstill; as your horse begins to respond, you can progress to asking for this flexion at a walk, trot, and lope.
Few things feel more perfect than a quiet transition into a balanced canter, whether you're riding a dressage test, setting up for a fence, or heading across a pasture. When it all goes right, you barely have to do more than think canter and your horse floats off on the correct lead into a collected, three-beat gait. But then there are the other times.