Stopping the Head Bob at the Lope, Part 1

Borrow a trainer and stop the head bob at the lope.

When we talk about a “head bob,” it refers to a western pleasure horse whose head and neck bob up and down within the rhythm of the lope. You see it in horses asked to lope too slowly – usually the horse is struggling to maintain his balance and uses his head and neck to compensate for it.

There are different degrees of head bobbing; some horses are more severe than others. In my opinion, the head bob is a fault and is always a problem, regardless of degree. I do not believe that trainers intentionally train the head bob into a horse. It is a result of other parts of the training process. They emphasize parts of the training – such as the horse’s body position or speed – and take those elements to the extreme, and the head bob becomes a byproduct of that.

In my opinion, two elements cause it. I think that you see it with horses that are over canted, and you see it when trainers put the horse in a rhythm that is too slow. When they put the emphasis in the hock and over-cant the horse, they train a kind of mechanical, disengaged step and cause a hesitation in the stride. They try to get the stride so slow that it has a suspended motion: It’s as if they say to the horse “lope one step, and now wait, lope one step and wait,” etc.

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I believe that some trainers find the head bob acceptable because they think the other pieces are so good that the head bob is not really that much of the big picture.

But a head bob is a fault and should be judged according to its severity.

Common Problems
A lot of the problems associated with the head bob come from wrong perspectives on training.

1. Training to an ideal instead of training an individual. The key is to allow each horse to be an individual at the lope and not to expect all horses to fit a mold. For example, a good lope should be consistent with the horse’s size. A larger-bodied horse should not be asked to perform in the same way as a shorter-coupled horse.I like to see balanced movement with cadence at the lope, a flowing three-beat gait. The rhythm of the gait should be one of ease. You want a steady or level topline, where the horse’s poll and neck remain level with – or slightly above – the withers. A strong hock is the driving force that engages the other parts of the body. Balance is key – the horse should have lift through his shoulders to maintain a quality lope.Movement that exhibits soundness, a willingness to perform and comfort while performing are all attributes a good pleasure horse exhibits. It all begins with the horse’s natural movement and the training should complement that. If you train a horse to complement his existing movement – striving to achieve the ideal without sacrificing natural movement – that will give you a horse that likes his job and shows that expression while competing.

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2. Making a horse something he’s not. Training that artificial movement also happens when a trainer is working with a lesser-quality horse, trying to make him more than he is. Or it can happen when a trainer has a short amount of time to train a horse to a certain level of competition.

Trainers usually over-cant a horse when they’re trying to make a horse appear to have a stronger way of movement. They think it creates the illusion of a horse having a stronger hock, by moving (the hock) to the inside and exaggerating the horse’s body position.

If you honestly show your horse and present him to his best advantage, you’re not going to be able to make him into something he’s not.