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Techniques for Calming Your Horse

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All horse owners know that a fearful or too-excited horse can be dangerous, or even deadly. Being able to calm your horse can be the difference between a safe, fun ride and a serious accident. Recently, the ClickRyder mailing list discussed techniques for calming a horse.

The most commonly recommended technique is "head down." Alexandra Kurland says that the horse's nose should actually touch the ground. Duration is also important. This is a behavior on which some list members recommend using the "300 Peck Pigeon" technique in order to add not just a few seconds, but several minutes, of duration.

Another technique discussed was bringing the horse's head around to the side. This technique received mixed reviews. Some liked the results, believing the neck stretch helps relieve tension. Alexandra, however, cautions that bringing a horse's head far back can trigger the shut-down effect horses experience when being taken down by a predator.

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Neck to the side

I am not yet a professional:

When stretching the neck to the side the response is not a shut down response, it is a relaxation type  response. The relaxation is due to the fact that this motion stimulates the vagus nerve, this slows respiration and heart rate and lowers blood pressure thus relaxing the horse. I use this technique with my arabian mare because she has a high tendency to get extremely over excited in some situations, it works very wel, I can continue safely what we were doing and she is listening to me again instead of her hind brain.

It can lead to the horse lying down however, due to an extreme drop in heart rate and blood pressure and is like passing out not shutting down. That takes several minutes more than what is necessary to get the desired response. It is not necessarily directly related to being preyed upon, there is whole heap of other stimuli and other nerves involved in that.

It works best with a deep stretch, but beware that it may take a lot of time to get your horses muscles to be this flexible, do not force them to stretch farther than they are capable of. Don't forget also that it DEPENDS on the situation. I think that the effect is greater than simply lowering the head That does not mean better! It DEPENDS on the animal and the circumstance. Lowering the head will also lower heart rate it will just be a lesser effect which in many cases will be all that is needed. Also remeber that stretching these muscles is good for your horse any way, but I reiterate never over do it.


University of Kentucky

BS Equine Science and Management 2011

Head down

I keep working on head down with my mare. My challenge is trying to figure out if I am getting head down because I asked for it or because she is looking for food on the ground. Duration is hard to figure because I cannot tell if she is keeping her head down because of hay or other food on the ground or she is waiting for the clicker.


calming horses

A recent issue of a popular Dressage periodical (all of which seem to be leaning towards using more positive interractions to train!) gave exercises that compliment Alex's Head Down. They call it a "falling down neck" which accentuates softness in the muscles of the underside of the neck and strengthening and the neck muscles that support the 'frame'. Very interesting and quite useful.