How do I get my horse to slow down, relax and lower its head?

I get asked this question regularly both through my EH member community, on my mentoring calls and at my clinics all around the world and it’s a very common challenge people face when training their horse at home. One simple training technique I get my students to try and overcome this issue is the serpentine. The serpentine in my training program is an exercise that redirects your horses energy and starts the process of allowing your horse to travel in a collected frame.

Riding around a large square or circle (Approx. 20-30m wide) in your arena start to complete 3-5m wide snake (serpentine) patterns left and right at the trot or seated jog. One TIP for success with this exercise is DON’T OVERTHINK IT! Focus your energy and entire body left then right, over ride with your hands in the interim, look left and right, shape your shoulders and hips in the direction of travel (we can soften the cues down once this becomes a little more refined). Also, don’t worry about where your feet and legs are when starting out, this is all taken care of if your upper body and hips are shaped it the right direction. Ensure that your horse is following his nose by shaping his shoulders correctly in the direction of travel. You will know this is exercise is going in the right direction when you start to feel your horse pick up his own weight and begin to feel more fluent in their movement. As seen in the second picture, don’t be afraid to override a little to get the result in the interim. Remember this is a horse training exercise not show equitation.

I use this serpentine exercise to principally to work on my horses shoulder control under saddle and in doing so a by product of this exercise is my horses energy, focus and balance comes back to center (underneath me). When completing this exercise I feel my horses are put in a position to collect their own bodies. When their shoulders are are elevated and prepared to travel left and right, I feel a lift in their shoulders and they begin to travel in a collected frame, the by product of this is that the horse softens from the withers forward and begins to lowers its head. This is a good sign that your horse is starting to travel in a collected frame engaging their topline and building the correct muscles for more advanced work.

Give it a go and let me know how you get on! Remember, this is just the beginning of a getting your horse to slow down and travel into a more collected frame, there is much more we need to do. It is however a great start to get your horse more balanced, focused and begin traveling in a naturally soft frame.

Hope it helps.


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(Pictures are from my 2019 Taunton UK clinic with a ex racehorse)

Justin Colquhoun

Hi There! I’m Justin Colquhoun. I founded Elite Horsemanship out of a dream to make real and effective horsemanship available to anyone at any level in the horse industry.