Should the poll always be the highest point?

BILL— That’s what the classical people say, but in real life sometimes it’s just not possible. Horses come to their riders in all orders of disarray and confusion. Some of them have been behaving that way for so long that the habit is deeply ingrained and not easily susceptible to re-training.

Here’s an example. You can tell by the photos that we’re talking about a Friesian here, Essentially a driving breed notorious for a high head carriage. Before you get all shuddery and weepy, please believe that I want the poll to end up the highest point and I want the horse to be ridden back-to-front, stretching into the bit. For better or worse I don’t have a photo of him in his most unsightly, periscopic frame. It would be illustrative, but unless you’re into giant black pool toys, it would be pretty gruesome!

In the first photo you see him being taken tight and deep. That is very temporary! It is simply to get him surrounded enough by the aids that he might tune in and permit himself to be shaped. On his own, he is large, strong, and prone to quite a bit of sightseeing.

The second photo is along the same theme but a little less extreme. Note that while he is deep, we are not trying to physically hold him there. As he offers to give and come down, we are granting him little bits of freedom, with the goal of pressing him forward into each little bit of space we allow.

In the third photo he is being given much more space and he has taken the bait. He is stretching forward and down over his topline.


In the final photo, because he is he learning the back-to-front connection, we can ride him in a more normal shape with the poll where it belongs. I am happy to say that by day two of the clinic there was almost a 100% carryover in this horse’s understanding from the day before.

 A quote which I have always loved (I used it in one of the very first training videos I ever made 36 years ago) went “If you don’t ride the way you believe you should ride, you end up believing that you should ride the way you do!” That was Capt. Etienne Beudant.

When you break a rule, you have to be careful. You have to acknowledge the transgression to yourself; you have to be sure it is temporary; and you have to be sure it is warranted. If suddenly you find yourself riding all your horses that way, you may be exhibiting a pathology which demands remediation!