A Hunter Frame

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Q. I want to show my horse in flat classes, such as hunters under saddle and hunter-type pleasure, but I’m struggling with his high headset. How can I get him into that long and low hunter frame?

A.  A horse with his head in the air generally has a hollow back, which correlates with a short, stiff stride. That’s not the sort of ground-covering, sweeping movement a hunter should exhibit. The ideal hunter on the flat needs a long frame—the amount of stretch or collection in a horse’s body influences his length of stride—and a head carriage low enough so the horse can move freely. Here are some tips on how to achieve the hunter frame.

Begin by outfitting your horse in a mild bit. Some sort of snaffle is best. Too much bit and your horse will avoid or evade your hand, resulting in an even higher headset. As you work your horse at the rising trot, make a lot of serpentines and circles, always maintaining steady, light contact through the reins. Permit him to trot freely, even if his head seems like it’s up in the air. However, make sure you bend your horse around each turn. Suppling your horse laterally in this way will also make him more comfortable stretching his neck out and down for the bit. If your horse seems a bit speedy, use gentle half-halts to slow him, but then soften your contact on the reins immediately as a reward.

Once your horse is bending around his turns, you’ll notice that he’s dropping his head and seeking contact on the bit. That’s a good sign! Ever so gently pick up a little more contact in an effort to “meet his mouth” at the end of your reins. Don’t let off with your leg pressure because your leg aids will encourage him to reach for the bit, creating a longer frame. When he lowers his head, reward him immediately by softening your contact. Let your hands tell him, “This is how I want you to carry yourself.” Your success will be short lived at first. In a few strides, his head will probably pop up again. That may lead you to consider the use of draw reins, but beware: They are not a quick fix, and, unless you’ve done your homework on the flat, your horse will revert to his old habits as soon as the draw reins are removed. Instead, be patient, be consistent with your leg and hand aids, and eventually you’ll have a horse that understands the lowdown of being a hunter on the flat.

Expert: Cindy Hale is the author of Riding for the Blue and A Passion for Horses.

11 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve had a lot of trouble with my horse’s frame in the past, and this method works really well to elogate his movement–great article

  2. Ive been trying to work on this a lot with my horse, but as soon as i fully give her her head she takes off and won’t stop. Any advice. P.S. i know this is a rider problem. Is there anything i can do to fix this?

  3. In addition riding with a training fork, or, if you are more experienced, draw reins can help tremedously! Great article!

  4. I have raised and trained Morgans for over 25 years so I know the problem of trying to get a naturally high headed horse to relax and put his head down. As stated, he can’t get his head down if his back is UP. So, instead of thinking about getting his head down, think about how to get him to raise his back, bring himself up to meet your seat. Ride tall with a soft, following seat. Always use your back, seat and legs to half halt BEFORE you do anything with your hands. Leave his head alone, you are riding the back end, not the head! Work on the 20 meter (60 ft.) circle, this is the classroom for the horse. If he gets too speedy, make your circle smaller, as small as necessary. He can’t run off in a small circle. Talke to him to reassure and help him relax. As soon as he slows, gradually make your circle a little bigger by spiralling outword. Again, do this with your inside leg on the girth, outside leg slightly back, turn from the waist, sit tall and look where you are going. Your hands are for gentle guidance only. Have contact on the outside rein and use the inside rein only when you need it to refine the bend. The horse should work “from the inside leg onto the outside rein.” The half halt is done by bracing your back, stop your seat, shoulders back and then close your hand on the outside rein. Alternate with the inside rein if necessary and release as soon as you “feel” the half halt go through your horse. Sometimes you have to half halt almost every stride but you MUST remember to release it every time too. Never get caught in a fixed hand. Keep the horse on the circle with the inside leg and outside rein, use the inside rein to ask for more bend when you need it, then DROP IT. Commpletely drop it. It takes time but done properly you will have a horse who willing puts his head down to seek contact with the bit and goes forward on the outside rein. Remember he must bring his back up, into your seat, to do this so make it very inviting for him to bring his back up by riding softly and following his motion with your seat. Sit tall.Don’t lean into the turns and keep your inside leg at the girth. Remember: This is a pleasure horse so make sure both you and the horse are having fun. When the fun stops it’s time to put the horse away. Put him away on a good note, doing something he enjoys and try again tomorrow.

  5. To make your horse go down into that long and low hunter frame you need to leg your horse on the upbeat of your post so that, that will make your horse move longer and open his/her stride. Then think about massaging your horse’s mouth with the reins, while you are still using your leg on the upbeat of your post. When you are massaging your horse’s mouth with the reins you want to lengthen your reins so your horse can have the bit. When your horse does drop his/her head reward him/her and give them more rein.

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