The Hackamore and Headset by Al Dunning
An element of grave importance is your horse’s headset in the hackamore. Do not misconstrue a dropping-off of his neck and head for collection. Your horse must flex at the poll with his nose vertical, creating a slight arc through the neck, with his weight rocked back and over his hocks. In this position, the entire spine is engaged and your horse’s front end is light.
If you teach your hackamore horse to drop at the withers, packing his head too low, he learns to push straight down through the hackamore and evade your direction. It is much harder to revoke a bad habit than it is to avoid one in the first place. Although conformation plays a significant role in the frame your horse can carry, remember that riding your horse up and into the hackamore equates to lightness. A flat-necked, nose-to-the-floor headset is not only undesirable, but also unproductive.
Sometimes a naturally low-headed horse might need encouragement to float atop the hackamore and attain the best possible carriage. Help such a horse to grasp the desired frame by elevating your hands and bumping skyward as you drive with enough leg to create energy and lift. When your horse responds by gathering himself and coming up and into the hackamore, relax your cues. Repeat these steps when your horse tries to flatten out, keeping your instructions concise and consistent. Through patience and repetition, your horse can find a position of carriage that corresponds to his natural, low neck-set, yet keeps his shoulders and front feet light.
Due to the backward motion, your horse naturally curves his spine as he gives in response to your direction, sitting down to balance over his hindquarters. Since he already has been taught to follow his nose, your contact and bumping leads him through a half-turn over his right hock, thereby making the connection of the right rein to his right hind.
Connect His Face to His Feet
Horses often are nagged, checked, and yanked by riders who, somewhere in the fray, have forgotten about their horses from the poll back. The simple fact is that head carriage is merely the result of a properly or improperly aligned horse. All the contraptions and training in the world can’t put an attractive, natural-looking headset in front of a heavy, misaligned body.
As you ride and train, remember that you are riding your horse, not his face. Your job is to guide his footfall by aligning his body from his tail to his nose in a shape suited for a specific task. Teaching your horse proper balance from the hindquarters enables him to perform with a high degree of athleticism. With his rear-end drive in use, his movements are dramatic, swift, and fluid, and his spine is engaged. This results in floating natural carriage and a consistent headset, not to mention a happier horse.
In all the maneuvers that you perform, keep in mind that your horse’s nose must relate to his hind feet. This is the basic principle of collection and the core of hackamore training. As with the rawhide artisan building a hackamore, you’ve gone through preparatory phases to shape your horse into fine, workable parts; you’ve removed the faults, cured, and tempered him. But all this work and preparation is in vain without a properly built core upon which to base all other, more elaborate training.
The goal is to teach your horse to flex at the poll with his nose on the vertical, rather than drop his neck and head from the withers.
Having a solid core means that, in response to a drawn rein, your horse surrenders his nose, rounds his spine, and drives his hind end deeply beneath his body. It is due only to this true collection that properly performed stops, spins, rollbacks, and all other skills demonstrated by a fine riding horse are possible.
Help your horse to connect his face to his feet by consciously riding his body and directing his feet through the hackamore. Backing your horse into a turn is a great way to teach the face-to-foot connection and create a solid basis for future training.
Follow these easy steps below to begin establishing that all-important core, the face-to-foot connection around which you can build your hackamore horse.
When you’ve made that 180-degree turn, casually walk your horse in the other direction. Work both sides of your horse in the same manner until he moves evenly and willingly as he backs into a turn in either direction.
You find that in a matter of a few backing-turns, your horse associates the rein directly to his hind pivot foot and drives it under his belly to roll into the new direction. In time, this simple exercise is used to develop the rollback, spin, sliding stop, and other maneuvers requiring advanced collection.
Al Dunning is credited with 32 world-championship and reserve-championship titles. The knowledge and passion he shares in his clinics, videos, and lessons have molded not only average students, but also some of today’s most successful professional horse trainers. Dunning’s ability to reach people comes from his love of horses and out of respect to the mentors in his own life. For more information go to www.AlDunning.com
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This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 9, Issue 4
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