Does your horse go around with his head up? You know he is supposed to carry it lower when you ride to better support your weight and so he can move more freely, but why does he have his head up in the first place?

Good movement of a ridden horse involves much more than just the position of the head, but dropping the head and neck can have a very positive impact on the horse. It can release tension in their back, and allow them to move with a more open, swinging stride.

However, with a high headed horse, you want to consider more than just how to “get his head down.” First, consider why he may be moving this way, and you may find a different solution than pulling on the reins or using extra equipment.

In this video, we will discuss three big reasons why horses move high-headed.

 

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58 Responses

  1. One of my horses always carried his head high and had difficulty with taking one lead and making flying lead changes. Luckily I am blessed to live near Butler Farrier school where they diagnosed the problem as limb length (one front leg is longer than the other). My large 16.2h paint has a difference of 1/2″ in his front legs. Some corrective shoeing, and some chiropractic/acupuncture treatments and it was like having a new horse.

  2. Hi Callie,

    My horse has been doing this for the last few weeks. He is quite a nervy horse anyway so did do this time to time but they have been in for the last few weeks due to wet weather so it is constant at the min. I am a nervous rider so this really makes me panic which I’m sure only make him worse.
    I always think I’m getting somewhere with my nerves and then something like this happens and I’m barely able to walk on him with out being terrified he’s going to do something.
    How can I help him relax?
    Thanks

  3. I love your videos. I do not have a horse, but have loved them all my life. Was wondering how long you have had Noelle…she is beautiful

    1. Thank you! I’ve had Noel for almost three years now – rode her off and on in the beginning, much more consistently lately

  4. This video gave me several “aha” moments. My horse does carry his head low BUT I experience times when he loses impulsion. Your explanation while riding Noel helped me realize what I was doing, I suspected it was my riding, to cause my horse to change impulsion. Also I realized that a rider who is not well balanced can cause a horse to become sore & possibly even unsound. Additional inspiration for me to get more fit for my beloved partner.
    Callie, thank you for sharing your knowledge. My horse and I are very grateful.

  5. Hi Callie,
    I have an Appaloosa/Percheron cross. He is about 14 years old. I have owned for just over a year. He is smart and brave and fun to ride but can be a bit challenging because is sensitive and reactive. He does have a tendency to carry his head high but often, when I ask him to lower his head, he drops it too low. This quickly turns in to an up and down argument. He has bucked me off twice in the past year, once after just heading out on a trail ride, I did not lunge him that day due to pressure to keep a schedule with other riders, and the second a few months after moving him to a new barn, he was still adjusting and I suspected ulcers. I have since treated him for ulcers and have spent a lot more time doing ground work. He seems much happier and more settled now, however, he is still prone to do the up and down thing with me. I am just starting to take lessons with the trainer on site so I am very hopeful that she can help me work through this. Again, I have learned over the past year that he is very sensitive and that my movements and aids need to be soft, quiet and patient. This has made a significant difference in how we work together so I am working on trying to follow this same thought process when under saddle and it does help but just the other day, while working in the arena, he started to carry his head high, using my seat as quietly as I could (I am a bit out of shape due to recovering from my last fall from him and well..Winter) I asked him to lower his head, he did for a few strides and then he drops it to the ground. So I asked him to lift and then up it goes and so on. I would really appreciate your thoughts on what might be happening. I do worry about pain and discomfort with him but as far as I can tell he seems relatively comfortable and saddle fit seems okay too. We could both stand to get back in shape and, hopefully as the days get longer and warmer we can get back to a more regular riding schedule. Also fyi, I ride strictly for pleasure. My background is hunter/jumpers but I no longer show and have no plans to hop him over anything more that 2ft. However, I do still love to learn and grow as a rider and I am certain my horse thanks me for that. Thanks so much for your time and all you do. I look forward to your feedback.

    1. Hi Debra, if there isn’t a saddle fit issue going on, the up and down with the head often means a lack of strength. I would start just at the walk working on having a consistent contact – horses like this often need that bit of contact to “help” them as they are develop the needed strength. Also circles can really help because the bend encourages a reach down with the neck and you can use your inside leg to encourage that while keeping your hands very quiet

      1. Callie,

        I have the same trouble with high low head and for right now it is from lack of riding during Winter. My question is how long to do ground work to reap benefit. I have poles to walk over and slight incline to go and down as well as walk trot straight lines in an arena. My horse has had several adjustments to make sure he is not out and feel he should not be having pain. He refuses to pick up right lead during canter. Any ideas of what to look for and possible ground work that would benefit. When he stands his right front is back and right hind is forward a lot. Any ideas of what to look for would be appreciated.

      2. Callie,
        Thanks for the video and suggestion. We have brought everything back to the basics and working at the walk (mostly) with trotting only if he is relaxed and reaching down, also working in a long rein to start and only shorten as he begins to relax and reach forward. Again, thank you so much and sorry for the very delayed response. Your emails wound up in my junk mail for some reason.

        Debra

  6. Hi Callie,
    Really enjoy your training!
    I find so many practical helps as I watch the videos.
    My horse has confidence issues,
    and he was never trained to lower his head.
    I’ve had him about three years , and we’ve been learning together. It’s been interesting! LOL!
    All of the carriage training is new to him.
    I’ve taught him to relax his head and neck from the ground, but haven’t figured out how to do that while riding.
    Thank you!
    Thanks!!

  7. I have an issue with the horse pulling his head forward and up as if he is trying to pull the reins out of my hands. Is there something I can do to stop this behavior or is their a reason besides bad manners. Is he trying to tell me something and I’m not catching on to his signal

    1. Hi Elizabeth – excellent question… unfortunately not one I can answer specifically without knowing your horse. I always start with looking for a physical cause however

  8. The head up might be a combination of things in my case: I have only been riding for 8 months, an Andalusian mare, very sensitive to pressure. She is trained and knows the Q’s, and I am learning from her fast. I can actually get away without posting since she is so smooth. Tanzania collects beautifully, and responds to all commands, but has a mischievous air. She loves to take advantage of me. Sometimes Tan is anxious about the South side of the arena. I think I may be overdoing the English style riding, posting position becoming tense on her back trying to do what I’m told. Your video is very insightful. Thanks

  9. Hi Callie.glad you are adressing this.I found most horses that I have seen are going hollow because they lack the basic in theyre first training. There are also horses with poor conformation and although this can be corrected to some extent with good training it is something to consider.thanks for the video and the knowlege you are putting out there.

    1. Absolutely agree, and riders the same! Callies videos are also great for me, and eyes on the ground to catch my poor aids etc also help. Education of rider and horse

  10. Thanks Callie this is really great. I think I could be causing this in my horse and I’m going to try some of your tricks. I do tend to brace my ankles to be in a “perfect ” position. I would also love to know some of your ground work techniques for helping her head go down. I think my horse also has a tendency to do this naturally so we’ve got a combination what things to work on.

  11. Wonderful topic, thank you Callie !
    My 9 yo Appy was a western 4-H pony before he came to live with us and transitioned to Hunt Seat (4 yrs ago). And he LOVES to jump! We enjoy Hunter Paces, XC Derbies, Versatility, Judged Pleasure rides, trails and plan to try some Dressage this year. We have worked hard to do well at all of the above yet he does still carry his head higher than I’d like and also pulls his nose regularly. We began with Dr Cooks bitless bridle the moved to a mechanical Hackamore for more leaverage on the Derby field. Over the last month have begun experimenting with the little S and a shorter shank mechanical. We have also changed saddles and that made a huge difference a couple of years ago !
    I’m happy to send pictures of how his bridle/Hackamores fit if that might help your reply. Thank you for your time and please know that I love your blogs !

  12. Thanks for this one Callie. I have a few friends this may help , and will share on my Facebook page.
    I’m also curious, are the bits you use “happy mouth”?

  13. Great explanation on why a horse may carry the head too high. Some years ago, I was asked, and then begged, to purchase an Arabian Gelding before the horse was sent off to a barn that schooled young children to ride horses. I did purchase the Arab eventually. He was a bit high strung for my taste! After the 4th ride on this Arabian, I felt something was seriously wrong with him. Yes, I had to deal with negative comments from other well established horse persons but I just felt inside myself this horse may have something serious going on. We took a trip to a hospital. The Arabian was diagnosed with 4 broken vertebrae healed incorrectly in the lower back, damaged stifles and a few other issues. His condition would not be resolved via surgery. He would be in pain for the rest of his life. Pain medication would not be beneficial. I retired the Arab on my farm and kept him 4 years until finally he ended his life mission via constant pain. I learned later that this Arabian suffered a horrific accident during a hunt event in extreme wet weather conditions. The Arabian should have been retired after the accident versus being shoved around from owner to owner unknowingly informing potential buyers about the accident. I or someone else could have been seriously hurt or killed through no fault of the Arabian suffering from constant internal, skeletal pain. Bottom line, it is always important to understand, learn and know why a horse may misbehave when being ridden. Always keep our humans and horses safe!

  14. Hi Callie. My TWH was very high-headed. I first checked the things that you mentioned might cause discomfort (saddle, back, pelvis, etc.). Before I rode Ace (about 2-3 times per week), I routinely flexed Ace laterally and he was able to touch his nose to the stirrup without any trouble at all. This is what I had been taught to do. Only after being in a clinic with Larry Whitesell and studying his DVD’s did I learn that if Ace was tense in his poll, he would be tense from his jaw to his tail. I did not realize that even tho he could flex his nose to the stirrup, he was doing so from the base of his neck and was still tense at the poll. And he was REALLY tense. I started working on flexion at the poll (which is very easy to do) and found a totally different horse. I certainly do not claim to be a professional rider but I did find that this certainly helped. Thank you for another great, informative video!

  15. My new horse is relaxed at the walk but as soon as I ask for trot the head goes up. He also raises his head when I take up a contact. The saddle he came with was a poor fit and I wonder if he is anticipating pain as soon as I ask for trot. He now has a better fitting saddle but still raises his head and resists the contact in trot. I have only had him a short time and suspect he has been mounted and then asked to trot and canter with little schooling. The other thing I am going to get looked at are his teeth. At the moment we are doing lots of walking in the school, large circles and lots of bending keeping a very soft contact. Can you suggest ways I could improve my horses way of going?

  16. My horse has consistent high head and did not know why until watched this video. I was not aware of the riding style I was doing that contributed to his problem. Will work on that. Thanks so much. He also gets anxious but mostly if he leaves his barn friends. Different process there.

  17. I would have to say anxiety is number one for head position. I plan to look through the videos, etc, for help on my anxieties as well that translate to my horse. For example I know I do better when there are fewer horses and activity in a ring(especially an indoor ring).
    thanks for the video and helping to me understand back position and comfort in riding for the horse.

  18. Callie,
    All of your videos are excellent, and this one is especially helpful. As a beginning rider I’m just starting to realize the importance of how a horse carries various parts of his body. I like how you drew a connection between high head carriage and hollowness. I don’t fully understand hollowness yet, nor can I see it when I’m riding, but head carriage is easy to notice.
    I just last week had an experience with riding a horse that was spooking due to ice coming off an arena roof. Clearly he was experiencing anxiety, and yes, his head carriage was very high at that point. It ended up being an excellent lesson for me to learn how to reassure him and get him past his fears, to say nothing of learning to control a spooking horse. Once his anxiety passed, he did in fact lower his head at which point he was much more responsive to my aids.
    Also ,lately I have been additionally riding a mare that is much more forward and sensitive to my aids. Because I am a beginner, I am sometimes clumsy when learning something new. For instance, when I started a posting trot with her, I was slamming my butt down in the saddle each time, which she was definitely reacting to, most obviously by raising her head. Thanks to the insights in your video, I can watch the head carriage of any horse I am riding and be more sensitive to their discomfort caused by my poor riding. This will clue me in to areas where I can improve. Thank you!

  19. I have an anxious horse who I will definitely try your method on. He gets scared when he sees his reflection in the window at the arena. I also have always sat deep in the saddle with my heels down which I will try to change. Thank you!

  20. Thank you for the video. Yes my boy can get high headed. We had been working on getting him to lower his head with rein cues and he had been doing OK. The problem then was more me, and he was learning. In the fall he lost his pasture mate and seems more fearful and spookiy now, so now he wants to ride high headed again. So now I am going to work on him with more ground work to let him know what I want and lunging in the areas that seem to bother him without loosing my patience with him so he may relax

  21. I have a Morgan/Arabian cross who has a naturally high head carriage and was a rescue that didn’t have much of anything done with her until she was abou 10 yrs old. She has been rather anxious, but is getting over that slowly. She has no hesitation to stretch down all the way at the walk, but the minute we go into the trot, the head comes up. I try to ride with a very soft following rein, and she is naturally very forward and cooperative, and has immense power and wonderful gaits. But getting her head down at the trot is a chore and I haven’t succeeded at it yet. Any thoughts? Thanks a million.
    KS

    1. Me too! Callie is raising many interesting topics in this video, I guess we will have to wait for her detailed post to help with each specific item.

  22. Anxiety, I think. There are some definitely red areas in the arena. Alpacas, big trees and guinea fowls don’t hep , but we have been in this Agistment for over one year and there are still very scary corners.

  23. These videos are very helpful and presented with the measured confidence of a true horsewoman. Translates to all disciplines and styles. Many of my training issues are rooted in this basic, subtle first step of making sure horse and rider are ready to move forward, before we do.

  24. Buddy always raises his head and looks to his right each time we go down the right side of the arena nearest a pasture that has other horses in it. I don’t know if it is anxiety or just inquisitiveness. He also rides with his head high when it is windy. I didn’t realize, until this video, that the way I sit the saddle could have such an impact on him raising his head. I will try to watch that, and see if I can get him to lower his head more. Thanks for all your videos. I love watching them, and I always learn something from them.

  25. Anxiety, maybe interest! Master saddled fitter seen yearly, dentist, chiro etc to check out that its not pain. Mostly she’s head level. when not rearing that is! But I’m also interested in head tending to nod up when tense, (so she’s hollow?) and nod down when relaxed (both especially noticeable in walk). This was evident in your video clip.
    I am trying to teach and learn cues and movements to ask her to attend to me, such as circles or flexions. Thanks for helpful and thought provoking video lesson.

  26. My 18 year old guy has always travelled with his nose poked out while going forward. When doing anything lateral, he goes soft and round. Would love to find a way to teach him that he can be in a better posture in forward movement too!

  27. Hi Callie, thanks for yet another informative video. I have a unique situation with my baroque horse. He struggles with some conformational issues; a bit of a sway back and a pelvis that tips back. His natural tendency or “habit”, is to move forward with his head in the air, hind legs out behind him and back hollow. Under a rider, saddle fit was an issue and probably contributed to that original pattern. I now have a custom-made saddle made specifically for his funky back. I think anxiety played a role as well. A horse that is not in balance experiences a degree of stress and that can manifest itself in different ways depending on the individual horse. My guy would respond by either hollowing his back and flinging his head up or grabbing the contact and running on his forehand. My trainer and I have worked for years to get him to step up underneath himself with his inside hind which encourages him to lift his back. As his hind end and back get stronger he is able to carry himself in better balance. It continues to be a struggle, although improving. Do you have suggestions for exercises that have helped you develop engagement?

  28. Really enjoyed this video. I think I have all 3 problems!
    I have an Arabian which tend to be more nervous/anxious than most breeds. I have spent a lot of time on groundwork and now feel that my horse does trust me for the most part. I had a lot of issues with saddles because of the Arab’s short back but think that I have at last remedied that.
    I am not an expert rider but find that when I trail ride he will drop his head walking along and feels relaxed but when I ask for a trot he throws his head high. I try to have very gentle hands and sometimes wonder if it is just me not collecting the reins properly.
    I guess after writing all this I e realized it must be my riding technique!
    Thanks and keep doing your videos. They make us better horse people

  29. Hi Callie, I was really interested to watch this video. My horse does this very thing where he brings his head up and hollows his back when I ride. My trainer says he does the same when she rides him (she is very petite) and it is that he was never really broken properly or taught how to carry himself rounded and working his back but I am concerned that it might be that he is uncomfortable because I am a heavier rider. My saddle fitter says the saddle is fine and the physio says he does not have any problems with this back but I am worried that might just be my weight (nb I am under the 20% weight ratio). What do you think?

  30. I just adopted a 16 yr old Arabian mare. She’s a sweetie, but seems to be very reactive , high headed & herd bound. I think her main problem is anxiety…she is around many other horses on this farm & 3 to 4 days a week there are a lot of people there and kids as it is a ministry for kids that are troubled and it’s a riding program for them. But it appears she will do these antics even when there’s nobody around. She’s very well-trained and I am a new rider so I’m sure my inexperience is having an effect some degree. We do have a pretty good bond but she seems to be more focused on things around here within on me when I’m riding. In the round pen she focuses on me pretty well but she can’t get distracted if there are other horses around or people or cars etc. today I rode her and she did great and really relaxed. But is soon as I started to take her to the trail she started getting really anxious. So I need advice I could get on this type of horse would be great! Thank you for all your great videos they’ve been a big help to me.

  31. Hi Callie,
    I have a horse that has been high headed for as long as I have owned him (10 yrs). I am a novice rider and learned how to ride on him. He does not have anxiety, and I was concerned about saddle fit, but I just recently had a saddle fitter measure him and discovered he is asymmetric so we have adjusted the saddle with shims. I must believe that it is my riding ability as my trainer does not have the problems (although he is sometimes high headed with her). I may be hitting too far back in the saddle. I need to observe tonight. I was definitely riding using too much hands which my current trainer has really helped remove that bad habit. I may be gripping with my leg too, although I don’t really feel that I do and my leg tends to move too much.

    1. Hi Beth! I have a few videos I’d like to suggest for you, looking at saddle fit is a great place to start here is an interview Is Your Horse Pain Free? Saddle Fitting with Dr. Joyce Harman

      I’d also like to refer you to our free series on Better Riding in 7 Days if you haven’t had a change to go through that mini-course yet! It sounds like you are very astute in trying to find out what is causing this problem in your riding, best of luck!

      Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  32. Hi Callie, glad you made a video and are addressing this issue. I have experienced the head high riding, as well as the head being too low and also know the feeling of getting that great ” Ah ! Now that’s a great ride ” and found your video very informative I’m a visual learner and enjoy learning from you. Thank you for making these videos and sharing your knowledge. Cheers from Canada!

  33. Hi Callie,
    My horse carries her head a little high when anxious. Although I understand this, it is sometimes hard to remove the situation that is causing the anxiety such as a paddock or arena mate that your horse doesn’t want to be separated from. Great video buy the way. Dan

    1. Hi Dan! From seeing your previous comment on another video I am wondering if your bracing into the stirrups may be part of the problem as to why she is unable to stretch down and out with her neck. I would start by teaching her from the ground to soften when the bit pressure is applied, that way you can keep her attention on you as much as possible when you are teaching that response, that will make it a much easier transition when you go to ask for the same response under saddle! I hope that helps 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  34. With my Quarter Horse gelding, the high head seems to be adrenaline. He gets “up” when he’s moving cattle, and also after a cold front in the fall. It’s a warning to me that I need to spend some time getting him relaxed because he’s bucked me off a couple of times when I’ve ignored him. You wouldn’t think he could buck very hard with the high head and hollow back, but he combines it with a “cutting horse” change of direction and I’m gone.

  35. Hi Callie,
    Love your style of teaching. I do believe that my horse is, at times, carrying his head high due to my balance issues. So I shall start paying more attention to that area and see if he gets better. Thank you so much

    Catherine

  36. I have an 11 year old Morgan who has always carried his head high, so I think it is habit. I have only owned him for four years, and I’m a beginner rider, so I think after watching your video that my riding is adding to it. I do think that I slam back on the saddle sometimes, but I also think (after having had some lessons) that he carries himself clumsily, with too much weight on the front end and he trips now and then. So I think his problems are both habit and lack of balance, aided by an inexperienced rider. When he does drop his head, he handles so much better, but he also seems to raise it because he feels like fighting me. I’ll keep working on it. I had not thought of working with him on the ground to get him to drop it there, but I’m not sure how to do that, so if you can explain that a bit more, that would help.

    1. I also had a young Morgan that was trained to drive, and they like a high headset. For the first year or so I had him, I rode him on the buckle so he could find his own ‘headset’. While it might have been a bit risky, it DID have the desired effect, and now I ride dressage and got many compliments on his lovely carriage. He discovered his own head position that was most comfy for him, with no gimmicks or gear needed. Morgans are preturnaturally smart!

  37. Hi Callie,
    I am leasing a horse (since late October). Our trainer, barn owner and vet have checked the saddle fit and each think it is fine. We found out that while on his previous lease, he did have back issues due to a poor fitting saddle. As I have been working with him, his behaviors of high head, dancing in the cross ties, and just this week – swinging away from the mounting block are more prevalent. When he goes to our indoor he still gets nervous (plants his feet and shoots his head up) when he sees the lounge window. Would this be carry over from previous saddle fit back issues? Or continuation of poor saddle fit/back issues? He’s been only ridden in the indoor for the 6 weeks we have had him so I am not sure why he would still be nervous (he is typically worked 4 to 5 days/wk). He does seem to be curious and want to “see” everything – but not naughty; he spooks a little (but my trainer also thinks that is because I do tense with his high head). I am foremost concerned and want to make sure he is comfortable and well taken care of… Thank you for any thoughts or advice?

    PS – Love the new site!! Congratulations to you and your team on the new and continuing endeavor <3

    1. Hi Regina, this does sound as if it is likely a combination of saddle and back issues, especially if it is continuing even if saddle fit appears ok. How is he when you palpate his back? What was your vet’s opinion of his back when they looked at saddle fit?

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