Washington, 5  year old Paso Fino ridden in Paso Headgear noseband w/ large knobs, two reins, no bit, and  Austrailian saddle in Arena by Intermediate rider

Question: I am trying to get the horse to flex at the pole while in motion, as I understand it, a part of collection.  He is quite flexible side to side ie he follows his head around various turn shapes.  He will also flex sideways at a halt and will chew my pantleg while I'm in the saddle if I let him.  None of this seems to be steps along the way toward verticle flexing.  From the ground I can get a little flex at the pole if I back him into a corner, otherwise he
backs up. From the saddle, while moving forward, any request for verticle flex is met with resistance eg a stiff neck and head shakes.  If I ask at a halt, he trys to back up.

From Panelist Terry

Flexibility is the root of gait, collection, balance, and getting your horse light. A horse can flex and still not be flexible understanding what you want out of the flex will make it work for you. It sounds like you have the beginning down your horse is giving to both sides. Now there are some points that you need to watch first as your horse flexes you want the head to stay parallel with the body. 

Second you will start asking your horse just to give to the side, but as they understand what you are asking for you will start to use a small amount of back pressure with the outside line this will start your horse breaking at the poll. One last thing at the walk on a straight at first take up even contact on both lines just a bit until your horse give the head
just a bit this will help him to break at the poll. Remember take your time don't be in a hurry give your horse the time to learn.

Terry Whaples

From Panelist Liz

Hi, Yes it is common to have this happen with bitless head gear, I have also found this to be the one weak point that can show up with this equipment but other than that I use them all the time.  The lateral flexion goes great but the vertical can be difficult for some

It may be time to start bitting your horse up in a snaffle bit and work on your vertical flexion with this. This works well for me and when they have gotten it you can go back to the bitless rig. Before starting in the bit have the teeth checked on your horse first
for possible need of a floating and if there are wolf teeth I have these pulled too.


From Panelist Stella

Since a horse uses his head and neck to balance itself, flexing more at the poll is the last part of collection, part of the finishing process. Collection is mostly about rounding the back, and driving from the hindquarters, with a lighter forehand. The neck involvement is from the baseline where it meets the shoulders, and up. How much flexion you get, and 
how quickly also depends on the length of the poll; horses with a strong topline of the neck often want to break at the crest, or may overflex the poll, too soon. If he is working well off the hindquarters, pivoting off the inside hind leg on lateral movements, then he may be ready to move on.

However,since horses tend to need less contact as their training progresses, you may simply need to reverse your noseband so that the smooth side is making contact with his nose rather than the knobs. He is likely to resist less. You do want to have a gentle give and take in your hands while asking for more flexion, rather than steady pressure.

But also,the bosal is designed to be a starter device, so while this may help with some flexion, many horses need to go into bit to finish setting their heads. It is not necessarily just the mouthpiece, but more so the upper portion of the shank, whose movement is controlled by the curbchain as to degree, that puts pressure to the poll for flexion in this area, something the bosal itself cannot accomplish. It may very well be time to start bitting your horse, which initially is usually used gradually in conjunction with the bosal.


From Panelsit Lee

I suppose the first question I have is how are you asking for flexion?  You have to ask in a different way than you ask for a back up.  If you just pull back at once on both reins, he may think you are asking him to back, and he is doing what you ask, even though that is not what you mean. Try vibrating first one rein, than the other, just under his chin, asking for just a tiny bit of give in his poll (don't expect him to have a vertical forehead).

Second, it is a lot easier to ask for flexion at the poll if you are riding the horse, and he is in a bit.  Most do not flex well at all in the bitless head gear.  You might consider changing over to a bit after he has started flexing a little on the ground without one ... keeping the noseband and reins and just adding the bit to it.

Third, why do you feel the need to flex  .. is the horse not working well in gait?  some do fine all their lives with a slight nose out, bitless, for pleasure and trail riding.  Just a thought ...

Good luck

Lee Ziegler

From Panelist Carol


I suggest the following excercises:  Don't expect much at first, this can take a while.  

1)  at the halt, pick up your reins in the middle, slide one hand down, then seperate the two reins into your 2 hands, holding them English style.  Close each finger seperately and see if you can get him to flex, even a little bit.  If he backs it is ok, just don't release the pressure on his face when he backs, only when he flexes, so he can start to figure out what you want.  It is essential that your hands remain steady and also release quickly.

2) At the walk, start out on a loose rein and encourage the horse to stretch his neck down and out.  After he has stretched, put your leg on him and collect your reins and ask for vertical flexion for even just a second.  Once you get it for one second, you are on your way and can go for 2, 3 etc.  Make sure he stretches alternately with flexion.  

3)  Hold your reins english style and very short.  Anchor your hands on the saddle or on the horse's neck, raising slightly out of the saddle.  Steer through some figure 8's and serpentines,  releasing and letting him stretch when he flexes and gets soft.  If you want to turn right, push your left elbow forward and your right elbow back and vice versa.

If you still can't make any progress, one of these three things could be wrong:

The horse is sore at the poll and can't be comfortable in a flexed position.

You are not releasing your reins at the right time, or not holding steady when pressure is applied.  A slight squeezing motion may help, but the wrists, elbows and shoulders must remain steady.

Hope that this helps

Carol Camp Tosh


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