“Hi Stacy! I have been following your blog for almost a year now and I love the knowlegde you share. I have a coming on 4 Year old filly who recently has gone to tossing her head lately when being ask to slow down or stop. Sometimes I almost feel hard on her mouth when she goes to jerking the reins when tossing her head as I am already applying some pressure. What could I do to stop this behavior? I wouldn’t like her to turn this into a habit everything I ask her to slow down or stop.”-Heather J.

As I haven’t seen you or your horse I am going to tell you some of the more common reason I have seen for this behavior. You can then determine if any, or a combination of any, fit your situation.

The first thing is the disclaimer on physical causes specifically teeth. Horse under the age of five are shedding baby teeth and all kinds of crazy things can be going on in their mouths. I have written several blogs about this topics so I won’t go into great detail here.

  • Inconsistant hands: Developing great hands as a rider involves the ability to move smooth and fluid. My mom told me to pretend I had ‘a little birdie’ perched on my hand and I didn’t want it to fly away. If that image doesn’t work then try imaging your hands carrying water. When the weather isn’t freezing cold try actually carrying water, or try my Egg & Spoon game anytime.  When your mare pulls you can also imagine your arms are rubber bands, they will give some (like a band stretching) but they smoothy return to their original position…which should also be where your mare finds a reward.
  • Straight and stiff: Horses are less likely to pull and toss their heads when they are bending. When I am training, as you saw in the Jac series, I teach a strong foundation of bending and counter bending. This is important because straightness and softness is more difficult to train. I didn’t say impossible, it is the end goal, but it is more difficult. Go back and watch the progression of Jac as he learns to counter bend and answer the question: Does my mare counter bend as well as Jac did at the end? Practice, practice, practice.
  • Stopping power: The stop shouldn’t be coming from only your hands at this point. If it is then you are likely using your hands for too much and your legs for too little. As a horse begins to understand the riders ‘body cues’ (such as leg cues and the rider shifting weight, etc) they shouldn’t need to be stopped 100% by the reins. It is possible to teach a horse to back up from leg cues. As you do this your horse will not require as much of a rein cue. Check out the video below to see how important the leg cues are in the stop.

The methods I teach on my Basic Body Control DVD as well as in pieces of the Jac series will show you methods for holding your reins during the bending and counter bending that are incredibly helpful for retraining your hands while still training your horse. Work your downward transitions on the four leaf clover pattern (shown in both places listed above) because you are more likely to have success there.

Also remember that training, and riding, a horse is like learning to dance together. It takes time and practice to become a strong team. Consistency in the number of days per week that you ride as well as the methods will also play a part in determining the outcome.

Video example of the importance of legs and stopping:

Video that shows Stacy and Jac still working on counter bending: