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Lowering Your Horse’s Head, by Clinton Anderson




Horse ownership should be fun for both you  and your horse.   A big part of what makes the  time you spend with your horse fun is having a  horse that is easy to handle.   For many owners,  clipping their horse’s ears, bridling or doing anything  that involves the horse’s head is anything  but enjoyable because the horse throws his head  in the air, making it difficult for you to reach him.   Whenever you do anything with your horse’s  head, he should lower his head to the ground  making it easy for you.   Most horses won’t naturally  lower their heads for you, but you can teach  them a cue to bring their heads down.   Once your  horse knows the cue, and if you are consistent in  asking him to lower his head every time you do  anything with his head, then it will soon become  a habit and he will do it without you having to ask  him.

Heads Up  – There are two reasons that a horse throws  his head in the air:   He is disrespectful of you, or  he’s scared and doesn’t trust you.   Both issues  can be resolved by doing groundwork and then  desensitizing the horse to movement around his  head.  Groundwork exercises such as Backing  Up and Lunging for Respect, Stage I and II, are  effective because they establish your role as the  horse’s leader.

Pressure on the Poll – When your horse is both respectful  and trusting of you, then you can  teach him the cues to lower his head.   The first cue asks the horse to lower  his head to pressure on the poll from  your thumb and index finger.   Using  this exercise you can teach your  horse to lower his head all the way to  the ground whenever you press him in  between his ears.   Once he has lowered  his head, he should keep it lowered  until you give him a cue to raise  it again.

Stand on the left side of your  horse facing his head with your belly  button.   Hold the cheek piece of the  halter with your left hand.   Put your  right hand between the horse’s ears  and gently touch his poll with your  thumb and index finger; your fingers  should be on either side of his forelock  just behind the hard lump  between his ears.   Gradually increase  the pressure by pressing with your fingers,  then pushing harder and finally  digging your fingers in until he responds  by lowering his head.   The instant he  drops his head even slightly, immediately  release the pressure and rub his  poll.

Initially your horse may dislike the  pressure and will react by throwing his head up.    If he does, you should keep your hand on his poll  as you maintain the pressure until he finds the  answer by dropping his head.   The key to this  exercise is to reward the slightest try.   If he drops  his head even slightly then you should reward  him by releasing the pressure and rubbing his  poll with the palm of your hand.

Through repetition,  your horse will gradually drop his head  lower and lower until it eventually touches the  ground.    Rubbing your horse after he has dropped his  head is very important because it will stop him  from becoming defensive about you touching his  poll.   Rub him for a few seconds or until he raises  his head again and then repeat the exercise.

After your horse becomes relaxed with having  his head lowered, teach him to keep it there until  you ask him to raise it by putting your hand under  his chin and lifting his head up.

Halter Pressure – You should also teach your horse to lower  his head to steady pressure on the halter.   To do  this, you’ll take a hold of the lead rope and pull  down with steady pressure until the horse drops  his head.   Again you are looking for small increments  of improvement, and you should release  the pressure initially even if the horse drops his  head a half-inch.   This exercise is particularly  useful if you are in a situation where you cannot  touch, or it is not safe for you to touch the horse’s  poll e.g.   in a horse trailer.

Ensure that you teach your horse to lower  his head to both cues when you are standing on  either side of him.   When you change sides you  will have to re-teach the entire lesson as though  you are dealing with an entirely different horse.

Safety Factors – Always make sure that you are standing to  the side of your horse and are not bent over the  top of him when you are asking him to lower his  head or when he has his head lowered.   If you are  bent over the horse and he throws his head up,  you will get whacked on the chin or head.

Author’s note: A native Australian, Clinton  Anderson began his quest to become the best  horseman he could be by apprenticing under  nationally acclaimed Australian trainers Gordon  McKinlay and Ian Francis.   In 1996 Clinton moved  to America to continue training horses and  apprenticed under Al Dunning, winner of  multiple AQHA World Championships, before  beginning to train under his own name.    Clinton loves training reiners and cow horses  and has been successful in both competitive  arenas.   Clinton is the host of Downunder  Horsemanship TV.   To find out more about  Clinton and how you can transform your horse  into the partner you’ve always wanted, log onto

[published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 3, Issue 4.]

Do your horses willingly give to pressure with the halter and between the ears? Do you practice these techniques inside the barn or in the outdoor arena?

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Bill lanham

    February 19, 2017 at 1:52 pm

    I have paint gelding about 8 very hard headed how can I get him to stop being so spooky

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