I’m going to say something that may be a little confronting and controversial for some of you. You’ve probably been told by many a trainer to pull your difficult horses head around or “flex” them to disengage the hind.
Now listen carefully – IF you have to pull your horses nose around to its wither in order to mount, you’ve completely missed the point.
Your horse isn’t ready or relaxed enough to be mounted. This may be due to fear or confusion, or various holes in training. It may be due to poor tack fit causing pain as weight is applied to the saddle. The horse may have pain going on elsewhere in their body that doesn’t allow them to relax and be ok with riding.
Regardless of the cause, if the pain and/or tension your horse has is beyond what they can tolerate, they will show explosive behaviour.
💥 Tension + Pressure = Explosion 💥
No amount of flexing is going to hold them or prevent that happening. The best you could hope for is a shut down horse who stands still because they have given up.
I would argue that if a horse has pain or tension, you are actually adding to that tension by pulling their head around, increasing the chances of an explosion.
“Oh, but what about disengaging the hind?”
Everything we do with horse training is about creating more hind end engagement, to allow the horse to function in a way that can carry our weight, to prevent injury and pain by promoting better biomechanics. Horses feel safer when they feel stable and balanced on their feet. If a tiger jumps out of the bushes to eat them then the balanced horse is in a better position to run away, the unbalanced horse will fall over their own legs and get eaten.
The balanced horse is more likely to be operating from the parasympathetic (“rest & digest”) branch of the autonomic nervous system, they are less likely to perceive what you are doing as a threat to their life.
So why would we want to tip the horse off balance and disengage the hind of a nervous horse?
My intent is not to make anybody feel bad, but it is about asking you to question what is going on for the horse? How does pulling the head around benefit the horse or rider? I implore you to think about what is actually going on for your horse that has led to their behaviour. What pain, discomfort or fear can you remove for the horse? Can you approach this problem in a better way?
Know Better, Do Better