There are so many training and lesson terms referring to the positioning of the horse’s head when it is being ridden that it can become difficult to know which is best when riding. For example: “on the bit/up to the bit/over the bit” are descriptions describing the horse’s head placement from the way the rider is holding the reins. In fact, some instructors will substitute the word ‘rein’ rather than bit: “on the rein/behind the rein/cue the rein/supple the rein” to indicate the rider’s influence on the horse via the reins held in the hands. With all this obsession on where the horse’s head should be positioned when riding and how the rider affects this positioning, how can a rider know just which position of the head is correct?
I have yet to see a horse out to pasture who didn’t know how to put his head down to eat grass. Yet under saddle the common perception is that the horse will not keep his head forward and low without gadgets and bits. Why can’t we connect the grazing stretch from the pasture to the head carriage of the horse under saddle?
Studies show that the horse’s reaction to rider weight is to push its spine downward toward the ground. He will also lift his neck and head upward toward the sky to accommodate his dropped back. This means he bends upside down with his head high and his back sagging. Since his back is no longer supporting the rider, the horse will have to hop from his hip and shoulder to trot forward, creating a jolt and bounce to the rider in the saddle. The common method of pulling back on the reins to adjust the high head position of the horse just brings the horse’s head up higher than it was before, creating more bounce.
To fix the head position and produce a pleasant riding horse we need to fix the source of imbalance: the dropped spinal vertebrae. Once the horse lifts the spinal vertebrae upward then the head and neck automatically reach outward and downward similarly to what we see when they are out grazing. The test of our horsemanship is not in how cleverly we can pull back the horse’s nose but how quickly we can convince the horse to lift its back upward. When his back lifts upward and carries the weight of the rider, rather than ducking down away from it, the horse discovers the relief of reconnecting his back to his tail and head. His balance returns,and his movement becomes smoother and easier to ride. The reins in the rider’s hands become simply a tool to maintain the horse’s posture while guiding it in which way to turn.