This is a continuation of the article I wrote called Reining Essential #1 Giving the Face. I’m going to do a quick recap and then get right into “troubleshooting” softening the face.
Reining Essential #1- Recap
1. Giving the Face
“Giving the face” means softening in the jaw and flexing willingly at the poll in response to light pressure on both reins, or flexing to the left or right in response to left- or right-rein pressure. It’s the single most important thing to teach your horse.
Reining Essential #1-Troubleshooting
With each thing that we teach a horse, many responses will come up. Some of those are good and some not so desirable. I’ll include a Troubleshooting section for each of these. I will also do a “myth busting” segment for each of the Essentials.
Troubleshooting. Common problems in getting your horse to give his face, and how to fix them:
Overbridling (chin to chest). Fix by using more leg and less rein, being sure to release when your horse softens. Also, if need be use distinct upward tugs on the reins to make it uncomfortable when he puts his head beyond the vertical or too low, returning to soft hands as soon as he corrects his positioning.
Underbridling (not flexing enough, his neck may be raised and braced against your hands). Fix by bumping incrementally harder with your legs in neutral position while holding with your hands as assertively as need be until there is the slightest indication of giving, then release immediately, then repeat.
Never fully softening the jaw (you’ll feel him still pulling on you even though he’s dropped his head). Fix by tugging the reins off the beat of his motion. Be sure not to tug predictably, or he may simply learn to move his head from side to side without truly giving/softening. Also, make sure the slack is out of the reins before you tug, so you’re never jerking.
Wiggling (his rear end drifts off to one side or the other instead of driving up underneath his body). Fix by riding assertively, bumping simultaneously with both legs in neutral position or just behind the cinch. Push him up into the “wall” of your hands to straighten him out.
Softening your horse is an ongoing and continual process. It will never end, and it’s the first thing that goes, if we’re not paying attention!