‘I Give, You Give’

Feeling hands and a consistent approach will recondition a “heads-up” horse to flex at the poll.

Here I’m working with a 7-year-old Appaloosa gelding. I’ll show you how to ask a horse to flex at the poll in response to rein pressure.


• Before you begin, do a few groundwork exercises to get your horse relaxed and using the thinking side of his brain. The more ground work you do during the period you’re working on vertical flexion, the more quickly he’ll progress. Also review last month’s lesson on lateral bending to lower a head (find it this month at HorseandRider.com). 

• Outfit your horse in a properly fitting snaffle bit. (If need be, ask for help to make sure neither bit nor tooth problems are factors in your horse’s heads-up response.)

• Be patient. Take whatever time is needed to teach your horse to flex at a standstill, then move up the gaits, always using enough leg pressure at the same time to let him know you don’t mean slow down—you mean “give.”

LEFT: Being by taking a soft, even feel on the reins, using enough pressure to “ask” your horse to give to you. Place your hands on your thighs, as I have here, to keep the pressure steady and constant. Then wait. MIDDLE: Here the gelding has given me a small but clear response – he’s flexed slightly at the poll (compare the topline of his neck here to what it is in the previous photo) and lowered his head just a bit. My response is to… RIGHT: immediately lift my hands and let the reins slip, to ease the pressure on the bit as a reward. Remember – it’s the release of pressure at the exact moment of compliance that enables your horse to learn.

A horse that raises his head instead of offering vertical flexion is trying to escape the action of the bit. He may have had rough handling, tooth problems, or an ill-fitting bit at some point that created that response, but now it’s become a habit. Correcting it is a long-term process. 

LEFT: Don’t expect the result to “last.” Here, as I once again take a steady feel of the reins, the gelding resists and raises his head even higher than it was before. No worries—I just keep the pressure on and wait… MIDDLE: …until he flexes and gives his face to me once again. Note that this time I get a bit “more” from him as he begins to better understand what it is I’m requesting. That’s what we want! Again, the key will be… RIGHT: …to release the rein pressure the instant he softens. Another good sign—he’s maintaining his flexion for a moment on his own. This is our ultimate goal: for him to soften and then stay light when we ask him to.

To be effective, the strategy I’ll show you this month must become a consistent routine until you recondition your horse’s response. Ultimately, you’ll teach him that if he “gives” to you by flexing at the poll when he feels you pick up the reins, you’ll always “give” to him by softening the rein pressure as a reward.

The method is straightforward but requires feeling hands, meaning the timing of your release is all-important. You’ll put pressure on the bit to ask your horse to soften to you, then release the pressure when he responds, then ask again, striving for a bit “more” over time.

I’ll demonstrate the method at a standstill; as your horse begins to respond, you can progress to asking for this flexion at a walk, trot, and lope.

LEFT: Here, I’m building on the response he gave me in the second try. Before he raised his head after that “give,” I reestablished rein pressure, this time asking for a bit more flexion than he’d just offered a moment before. MIDDLE: I love this photo. It clearly shows the gelding thinking about what I’m asking of him. Note the ears, and the slight tip of his head. Still, he’s not “giving” yet, so I’m not releasing the rein pressure yet. RIGHT: Success! His best “give” yet, and he’s maintaining it for a moment on his own. This is a good place to quit for the day. When he’s confirmed in this response at a standstill, move on to work in motion.
Related Articles
3 Reasons to Try the Ranch Classes
Better Your Backup
HR_24SPG_Problem Solved_loading_Al Dunning
Keep Loading Easy
HR_24SPG_Confident Rider
Back to Basics
Stick to the Steps
Receive news and promotions for Horse & Rider and other Equine Network offers.

"*" indicates required fields


Additional Offers

Additional Offers
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.