Q&A Questions and Answers:
I am wondering if you can help me. I just bought an 8 year old percheron gelding. He was a rescue so I don't really know much about him. I know he was supposedly sent to a trainer for 3 months for western riding about 2 or 3 years ago and hasn't been ridden since. I went to put the bit in his mouth and as soon as it touched him he raised his head as high as he could and I couldn't reach high enough to get the bit in his mouth. I tried getting his head down with treats and he still wouldn't put it down for me. I don't know if he had a bad experience with a bit before or not. Is there anything I can do to get his head down and get the bit in his mouth? Should I try using a hackamore? If so, will I have enough control with a hackamore? He is a big boy to risk not having control. Any advice will be a great help.
I took your question to my friend, Duane Barrow, who was working with draft horses before the hills got dusty. Always quick to come up with a practical answer, Duane suggested that you just use a mounting block -- such as those in the photo at right -- to allow you to reach high enough to work with your percheron's head.
The first step in getting a draft horse to take the bit is the same as with a saddle horse -- getting it to lower its head enough for you to hold the headstall with your right hand at the top of the horse's head. As you slip the bit into the mouth with your left hand, the right hand slips the headstall over the ears.
So, how do you persuade a reluctant horse to lower its head? You simply show it that it's more pleasant to lower it than to keep it high. Here's how to do it:
Here, Duane demonstrates where to put pressure in teaching a horse to lower its head. Reach up behind the ears and pinch the top of the mane between your thumb and index finger. You usually don't have to pinch hard... just increase the pressure until the horse lowers its head, then instantly reward the critter by releasing the pressure.
In this photo, Duane shows how to place your arm over the poll. If he were actually tacking up his horse, he would have the headstall in his right hand and the left hand would be putting the bit in the horse's mouth. If the horse has a problem accepting a metal bit, you can sweeten the process some by putting a little molasses on the bit. If he's still reluctant, you may want to try a rubber bit until he learns that it's not going to hurt.
If you're not comfortable with standing on a mounting block, here's another approach. It may take a little more time, and doesn't have the advantage of leaving your arm on top of the head, but it may work better for someone who is "vertically challenged."
A horse naturally responds to pressure by moving into the pressure. You can take advantage of this quirk of equine behavior by pressing your fingers under the horse's head near the neck. Don't push hard -- we don't want to push the head up, we just want it to feel some pressure. The horse should respond to that pressure by starting to lower its head.
By the way, this particular horse had never before been cued to lower its head by this method -- but it worked instantly. As soon as the horse gives the correct response, reward it by releasing the pressure, patting it, or otherwise rewarding it. Be patient and consistent, and you may soon see the horse lowering its head as soon as it sees you approaching with the bridle.
Should you try a hackamore? My first instinct is to use whatever rig the trainer used. If you go to a hackamore, begin by working him from the ground with long lines. If the percheron began his working life in a harness, he may well be more comfortable with the "plow rein" action of a side-pull hackamore.
I hope this helps!
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