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Strategy to Help an Ex-Polo Horse to Stop the Habit of Raising Head in Resistance

Featured Image Credit (CC): James Brennan on Flickr

Submitted by member: Yulia

I’d like some advice on how to deal with horses who have habit of raising theirs heads up:

  1. in front of the jump
  2. as a reaction on reins or legs

I have a ex-polo Thoroughbred horse, lol, she has it all.. was rearing in the beginning, now just raises head up as a resisting habit… I guess that many ex-polo ones have this problem, and hot TBs too.

Answer by Geoff

Essentially my answer to almost all issues with horses comes down to one word – forward. A horse resisting by putting his head up is no exception. I would start by working on the flat by riding the horse forward in all gaits. Remember that forward is not necessarily fast, but the idea of the horse wanting to go on his own. The horse can be backwards at a very fast pace and forward in a very slow pace.

I use a few things to measure the degree of forwardness in a horse. First and most important would be the hind legs. The horse should lift them as high as possible and place them as far up under my seat as possible. Second would be that the horse is developing contact with my hand, or pulling a bit. Third would be the horse reaching out and down with the neck, and fourth would be a bright expression with the ears up and looking forward towards whatever is next. Forwardness in the horse is created with legs, seat, spurs, cluck or stick, depending on his sensitivity. If the horse is truly moving forward and responsive to the driving aids he will not be lifting his head.

Once the horse is truly working forward on the flat, he will be using his head and neck, and be on contact so the rider can manage the position of the head and neck by either closing or relaxing the fingers on the reins. This can then be carried over to jumping work by starting over rails on the ground and low jumps. Rails are especially good because if the horse is truly working forward on the approach, over and away from the jump, again the rider can manage the position of the head and neck by either opening or closing the fingers. Rail work can be done in any gait, at any speed in that gait and in any direction. I would start slow and work my way to more pace gradually. When things are sorted out over the rail in both directions in all gaits then it should be able to be carried forward to low jumps and beyond. Like all things with horses, this problem can be solved by going back to basics and allowing enough time for the horse to learn and understand.

Video Recommendation:

training your OTTB horse

Training the OTTB Horse
Bernie Traurig member, Adult Amateur Jumper rider Stacy, reached out to us to get training help from Bernie for her off the track Thoroughbred horse, Diesel. Before the training session, Bernie familiarized himself with the duo by watching a video of them on course, determining what issues needed to be addressed. It became apparent that Stacy was having trouble maintaining an even pace on course, that Diesel avoided contact and wouldn’t use his neck over the jumps and got quite hot, occasionally bucking and evading the bit, between the fences. Watch as Bernie returns to basics with this team, using the simplicity of the Forward Riding System to re-school this horse and provide valuable tips for Stacy to apply at home.
Running Time:  33 minutes and 42 seconds

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Geoff Teall

Geoff Teall is one of the leading Hunter and Hunt Seat Equitation trainers in the country. Horses and riders who have trained with Geoff have gone on to win championships, medals and ribbons at major events including Devon, the AHSA Medal Finals, the ASPCA Maclay Finals, the Capital Challenge, the Pennsylvania National, the Washington International, the USET Talent Search, and the National Horse Show. Geoff is an "R" judge for both Hunters and Hunt Seat Equitation. In addition to training and judging he also offers his expert coaching through virtual training. To learn more from Geoff Teall Virtual Training on Facebook and Instagram.

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