Head-up Technique: Chin Lift
There are three ways to do the Head Up Techniques. This article is the first of three.
a) Chin Lift (Hands Under Chin)
b) Head in Arm
c) Head on Shoulder
Which you use depends on which the horse is more comfortable with. It is generally easier for the horse, and you, to start with the Chin Lift. This is especially the case with shorter horses who may be too tight in the poll to be able to relax with the head high up on the shoulder. Even tall horses, though, may be able to get the head that high, but if it’s not relaxed then it’s not working. So, in general, start low, with the intention of relaxing the head onto your hand/arm/shoulder rather than trying to get the head up. Remember, the goal is not to get the horse’s head up, but to get the horse to relax the weight of his head down onto your arm, shoulder or hands.
The Purpose of these Techniques is to improve comfort and range of motion in the poll and atlas. Remember that the poll/atlas junction is the most important junction in the body and that connections here affect other areas of the body.
The Goal of these Technique is to ask the horse to allow the weight of his head onto your arm, shoulder or into your hands.
Note: The goal is not to get the horse’s head up onto your arm, shoulder or hands, but to get the horse to relax the weight of his head down onto your arm, shoulder or hands. Taking the weight of the horse’s head allows him to relax the muscles of the poll.
In horses with extreme tension here sometimes all it takes is to allow the horse to remain relaxed in this position, doing nothing, for even a few seconds, to effect huge releases from the horse.
A) Chin Lift (Hands Under Chin) Technique
Step by Step (Starting on the left)
- Start with gentle Lateral Cervical Flexion, which you have already used to relax the poll and neck. Keep your hands soft and find a position where the horse is relaxed, usually after a couple of wiggles; with the nose still toward the front. (Image 1)
- Keeping the nose hand soft, gently move the neck hand to underneath the chin. (Image 2)
- Soften both hands. Your arms should be “floating” and there should be absolutely no pressure on the nose. And no grabbing of the nose. This hand is only to keep the head “in the neighborhood”.
- Very slowly and gently lift the chin, only a quarter inch at a time, watching the eye. If you lift too high or too quickly the horse will tense or try to get out of it. The goal is to allow the weight of his head to settle into your hand. (Image 3)
Tip: Lift so slowly that you are able to notice when the horse’s eye twitches or blinks. This is the place to stop lifting and hold the weight. When the horse blinks, he is telling you he’s feeling something, but he’s not yet bracing against it. This point may only be after raising the chin an inch or two. If the horse doesn’t blink, settle the hand down and start again. You may have passed the “blink point”.
- When you have found that point, wait In that position for the horse to relax even more weight into your hand, or for him/her to begin to “fidget”. When either of these happen, soften and lower the head just a little, and do again. Each time you will be “peeling off” layers of tension In the poll.
- When the horse is heavy, slowly move the head and neck up and down, and then around to the side through gentle ranges of motion. Do this slowly, watching the eye for a blink. When you find a blink, slow and soften, allowing the horse to release tension in that spot.
Note: Remember, a blink means the horse is feeling something at that point, but he’s not yet bracing against it because you’re moving through it slowly and gently. If you don’t go slowly and gently then the horse will get uncomfortable and want to brace or get out of it.
Another Note: Be aware that at some point the horse may get uncomfortable and want to fidget or get out if it because he has released something and needs to “process” it. Try to start to distinguish between when the horse is fidgeting because he has released, or is trying to get out of it because you are going too hard/fast. In either case, if you are moving slowly through a technique and the horse begins to fidget, it’s a sign he’s releasing and is a good thing.
The Chin Lift can be used to;
1) transition from Lateral Cervical Flexion to Head Up, especially for horses who are unable to relax higher up onto the arm or shoulder, and
2) as an alternate way to do Lateral Cervical Flexion on horses who are sensitive to touch on the neck.
Some anatomical considerations:
Restriction in lateral movement in the vertebrae of the neck is indicated when the head goes “flat” and the neck “corkscrews” as the nose is brought around to the side. By gently lifting the head in small increments using the Chin Lift when coming around to the side, lateral movement of these vertebrae can be improved.
Note: Do not try to “correct” this flattening of the neck when first asking for lateral movement of the neck. The goal is first to release tension, then ask for movement in small increments and over time with the Chin Lift. Do not force or push against anything with these techniques. The goal is to allow the horse to release tension, and layer by layer get improvement in movement, comfort and behavior.