“Question Stacy Westfall, when in your training do you start to care about how the horse is holding his head and neck? Or does this just come naturally? Just curious on your thoughts on this subject.”
There are many opinions concerning what a horses headset should be. Some breeds or disciplines desire the head to be held high while others prefer low. Even inside of specific disciplines, reining for example, the preferred headset often changes from trainer to trainer. Many breed associations have eventually needed to address headsets and rules have been written as to what is acceptable or desirable depending on the class. For example, the AQHA had to address the issue of western pleasure horses carrying their heads too low. Now there are written rules, this is from the AQHA rules online;
“He should carry his head and neck in a relaxed, natural position, with his poll level with or slightly above the level of the withers. He should not carry his head behind the vertical, giving the appearance of intimidation, or be excessively nosed out, giving a resistant appearance. His head should be level, with his nose slightly in front of the vertical, having a bright expression with his ears alert.”
One thing most people agree on is that the horse should not appear resistant; head tossing, gaping mouth, pulling reins away from the rider, etc.
I enjoy training horses to be willing and soft and then, for the most part, I let the head carriage be determined by the horse. I take into account how the horse is built. When people are concerned about the horse carrying its head low I recommend them buying or starting out with a horse that, when observed in the pasture, lunge line or round pen, naturally carries their head low.
The bigger issue for me is how the horse carries themselves through their withers. It is important that the horse keeps his withers elevated for maximum athletic ability. You can see in Episode 24 at the 5 minute mark how Jac is desiring to drop his head as a side effect of the bending and counter-bending. I will actually discourage Jac from dropping his head for a few months at speed, until he has a solid lead change and slide. Then I will allow him to drop his head if he wants after that. Jac doesn’t understand that dropping his head too fast will make learning the lead change and the slide more difficult.
I have trained horses for western pleasure, reining, trail, lunge line and general trail riding. I currently choose to train for a discipline where I can generally win without aiming for a specific headset. If I chose to train for a different discipline I wouldn’t have a problem with aiming for a specific headset…but I would start with a horse where the natural head carriage had my work already done.