An overbridled horse is flexed too much through his neck and poll, curling his nose toward his chest. In some of today’s events, horses can sometimes wind up overbridled, and if you want to go on and show them in an event like ranch riding or cowboy dressage, you’re going to have to undo that tendency to over-flex.
I’m going to show you how to accomplish that. The horse in the photos is one my wife and I acquired in 2017 when he was 13 and could overbridle to the point of bringing his nose right to his chest if you had to pick up on the reins during a run. We helped this with a lot of exercises like the one shown, with the result that my wife showed him successfully in the World Equestrian Games last year.
This exercise, which involves repetitive zigzag leg-yielding, is something I picked up from dressage people. It’s highly effective in correcting the overbridled horse.
Why It Works
A leg-yield moves your horse forward and laterally at the same time. To perform zigzag leg-yielding (where he changes direction every few strides), your horse must first organize himself well. He must shift his weight onto his hindquarters, raise his shoulders, and raise his head. As his head comes up, his nose comes into the correct, vertical position, as opposed to tucking behind the vertical.
In other words, the correction you’re seeking (repositioned head) happens automatically because your horse can’t do what you’re asking of him (the zigzag leg-yielding) without altering his position and raising his head.
Before You Begin
Be sure your horse understands leg-yielding and works well off both your legs in order to be able to zigzag. As I like to say, you must create a tool before you can use a tool.
If your horse resists your leg, tends to get crooked, or flips his head in the air when you ask him for a simple leg-yield, go back to basics and refresh his learning of the maneuver before you attempt this exercise.
Then try the zigzagging as I describe it here.
Step 1: Overbridled
This photo shows you overbridling—my horse’s nose is tucked behind the vertical. In this position, he isn’t carrying as much weight on his hind end as he could and should. As proof, note that his right hind leg is stepping up only as far as the back skirt of the saddle, when it should be reaching much farther forward.
Step 2: Leg-Yield to Correct
Here’s the correction. Obviously, you can’t push a rein forward with your hand in order to push your horse’s nose forward. Instead, you ask for a leg-yield, which will accomplish the head repositioning automatically.
To leg-yield to my right, I’m using my left leg on the girth to slightly bend my horse around my leg, which also tips his head slightly to my left. I’m also “opening the door” to rightward movement with my right leg. In response, my horse is moving forward and laterally to my right—note how his left front leg is crossing over in front.
We’ll go two or three strides this way, then I’ll release the cues to go straight ahead for a step or two, then reverse the original cues to begin leg-yielding to my left. We’ll go a few strides in that direction, straighten out again, then change back to going rightward. Repeated changes create the zigzag effect.
Again, to accomplish all this, my horse must shift his weight rearward and raise his shoulders and his head, which corrects the overbridling.
Step 3: Nicely Bridled
And here you see the result. My horse’s head is just slightly above the level of his withers, and he’s now perfectly flexed at the poll instead of throughout the middle of his neck. As a result, his nose is very near the vertical.
Note how he’s carrying much more weight on his hind end. Compare this photo to the first one, which was shot at the exact same moment in the stride. Here, that back right leg is now reaching much farther forward, to land underneath my weight. Plus note how nicely his shoulder is elevated in this photo.
If you practice this leg-yielding zigzag any time your horse begins overbridling, he’ll soon decide to keep his nose closer to the vertical, where it belongs.
Click here to watch Warwick Schiller’s how-to video for this zigzag leg-yield exercise to correct an overbridled horse.
Australian clinician and reiner Warwick Schiller lives in Hollister, California. He’s an NRHA reserve world champion and represented Australia at the 2010 and 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games. He solves horse problems by changing the rider’s perspective. Learn more about Schiller and find his clinics, books, and videos at warwickschiller.com.