Can You Help Me Fix My Horse’s Poll? by Dana Hokana
Q. Hey Dana, I have a huge problem with a quarter horse I bought a couple months ago. He has a very exaggerated poll (bends way to much). I plan to do western pleasure, since he has such a great disposition for it, but do not understand how to fix this problem so that when it comes to a curb bit or show bit the poll won’t exaggerate. When I bought this horse from the stable where I board, the owner would let anyone ride him and they would ride him in a walking horse bit. I do not understand why, as it is mostly a walking horse stable. Anyway, I have no clue what to do. I started back on a snaffle bit when I first got him, which the owner couldn’t believe I could control him with. With the snaffle he doesn’t flex a bunch with it, which is understandable. I’m very bummed.
Since I bought your Volume 2 and 3 of Take Control DVDs, they have been AMAZING. Just 2 days of a good hour of your training advice has made this horse so much more responsive. I plan to show him in walk/jog classes at an open show in August and finish the year out, so that for next year we can go more to an extreme with walk/jog/lope. I really believe this horse has what it takes to compete at AQHA point shows. Nothing huge but get what I want out him since he can do it and without a level neck, I’m not going to get placed very well. I would somehow like to know what to work on to fix this problem. That is the only thing that discourages me so much about this horse. He is such a pleasure to work with and would do great in the show ring with his calm attitude. I’m going to include a picture of him in action with a high port curb bit that I have never used on him. The poll is just way too severe.
A. Dear Paige,
I am so happy the other DVDs were a help to you! I believe these additional pointers will really help with your horse.
It looks to me like your horse has learned to break (or flex and give) in the wrong places on his neck. In order to get that good relaxed level headset that is needed at the AQHA shows, he needs to break or flex further back down his neck. It also looks like he is bracing in the jaw. A horse can “hide” behind the bridle (behind the vertical). When they do that, you are unable to use your legs and hands together and get the collection or roundness in the back that the horse needs in order to be his best.
Horses learn to break just behind the poll like your horse is doing for a few reasons. One is that when his trainer or rider would ask him to flex or bridle they would release or reward him when he tucked his head. This is correct to some degree and sounds good, but doesn’t teach him to drop his neck. One way that you can correct this is when you take a hold of his face, stay in a little longer and watch along his neck for where you will see the point of flexion. This point, where the angle of the neck changes and goes from heading up to heading down is what I call the breaking point. If he balks, or doesn’t want to go forward, encourage him forward with your legs. Hold him gently in the face if he pulls back on you. You can bump lightly but keep pushing him forward with your legs. As soon as he tries for you and his breaking point comes further back on his neck closer to his wither, release him. That is his reward. Even if he didn’t change a lot the first few times, reward him for each improvement. Then pick him up and ask again. One thing you will notice is that he will start to lower his neck after he is dropped. Remember that from now on you must follow through in every pick up and not drop off his head until he is in the correct position. Also, I would ride him in a bit that has enough leverage and is one he respects enough to give to, but is not so severe that he is afraid or intimidated in and causes him to hide behind the bridle or vertical. You want to be able to take a hold of him and have him soften and give in the head and neck to your pull. I liked your hand position in the pictures. If I had to guess I would say that you have good hands. If you get a lot of resistance when you pick up on him, you can shorten your reins or temporarily widen your hands. Just try to get through to a place where you can get a win with him. That way you can reward him by releasing him.
The other exercise that you can do to help him to “let go” of his neck is one that involves lateral or sideways movement of his head and neck. He has learned to brace or tighten through the poll and upper part of the neck. You can “break him loose” so to speak by asking him to bring his head and neck to one side or the other and “follow his nose” by walking him toward his face. Try to not let him drift or lean out of your circle with any part of his body. Most horses will lower and relax their neck when you do this exercise over and over. It is very important that you don’t scare him in this maneuver by jerking him. Just draw your hand out to one side and encourage him forward with your leg. Release your outside rein so that you are not blocking or trapping him. He doesn’t have to have his chin tucked. This is a form of collection as you have hold of his face and are controlling his head and neck and are pushing him forward with your legs. It stretches him out in the neck and teaches him to walk forward to his face in a position other than his over-bridled way that he is accustomed to. Work on one side until you feel a softness, and acceptance. Try to get a fluid cadenced step out of him. As he gets more supple, you can tighten or increase the bend in his neck thus increasing the level and difficulty. Take your time, for if you haven’t done this before, he may be stiff and resistant. Keep in mind that your goal is suppleness as well as willingness since some of his over-bridled tightness in the neck is a level of resistance or unacceptance.
I hope these exercises help you. They are simple, but very effective. I am eager to hear the results!
Dana Hokana is one of the top female trainers in the Quarter Horse industry, and currently operates Dana Hokana Quarter Horses in Temecula, California. Raised in Southern California, she has had a lifelong love for horses. Dana has trained multiple Western Pleasure circuit champions, winners at major futurities, and horses who have placed in the top ten in Western Pleasure at both the All American Quarter Horse Congress and the AQHA World Championship Show. Riding her own stallion, Invested Dimension, she captured an AQHA Reserve World Championship title in Senior Western Pleasure.
Dana’s DVD series entitled “The Winning Strides Series,” is designed to educate horse owners and riders from the basics of horse handling and horsemanship, to competing at high levels in the show arena. Skilled at teaching in an encouraging, relaxed, non-intimidating way, she carries these traits into the instruction in her video series. Dana will be a featured clinician at the Mane Event in Red Deer, Alberta, and has spoken at the Equine Affaire in Pomona, California and was a clinician at the Equine Affaire in Massachusetts and Columbus, Ohio, focusing on topics from grooming to western pleasure.
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