Head Up Technique in Arm
This article is the second of three. As we said last week, there are three ways to do the Head Up Techniques:
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, which we did last week. This week we will work on b) Head in Arm.
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. (photo 1)
- When the horse is relaxed, keep the fingers of the nose hand (left hand) soft on the nose, but pivot your elbow down in front of the horse’s nose so that It comes up under the chin. The fingers of this hand never leave the nose. In this way the horse knows not to pull his head away. If you take your fingers off the nose during this maneuver, he may move his head away. (photo 2)
- Slide the fingers of the neck hand (right hand) up to the left side (your side) of poll just behind the halter. It may be difficult for you when first doing this, but try to keep both arms and both hands soft and relaxed. (photo 3)
- 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. (photo 4)
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 arm 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.
Note: There are three things you can do once the horse has relaxed the weight of his head into your arm.
1. Nothing (my favorite). Just allowing the horse to relax this junction is HUGE.
2. Massage the muscles behind the poll. As the horse relaxes the weight of his head into your arm then the muscles under the fingers of your right hand on the poll may relax enough that you may be able to begin to gently massage them.
3. Movement In a relaxed state. You may be able to gently move this junction between the head (occiput) and the first joint of the neck (atlas) through a gentle range of motion in a relaxed state, by gently raising, lowering and rotating the nose. 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. It doesn’t take much movement, just gentle movement. The relaxation is more important than the range of motion.
4. Search for the blink. If you feel that the horse is not relaxing his weight onto your arm then, while you’re waiting, you can VERY LIGHTLY search for a blink in the area just behind the halter on your side of the poll. This is done almost hair-by hair. When you find this spot, if you stay there light enough-long enough then the horse will HAVE to relax. The thing is, a) you have to be more patient than the horse, and 2) when the horse realizes it’s working then he may fidget and try to get out of it, so you have to keep his nose “in the neighborhood”, without pulling on his nose.
Don’t ask me how this works; It just does!
Note: Remember that the goal is not to get the horse’s head up onto your arm, but to get the horse to relax the weight of his head down onto your arms. Refer to last week’s post for more on this.
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.