Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The adrenaline response

Through the magic of Giddyupflix, I recently watched Deb Bennett's conformation video and was reminded of something I only learned last summer. Did you know that there is a trigger point at the base of a horse's neck that delivers a surge of hormones depending on the horse's head position? When the head is down in grazing position the trigger point isn't pushed and the horse gets a surge of calming, feel good endorphins. If the head pops up, as in the appearance of a predator, the trigger point prompts a rush of adrenaline through the body to prepare it for the fight or flight response.

Now take a look at this neck, what does it tell you about the temperment of my mare? From the muscling on the underside of it you can tell that she spends an awful lot of time with her head cranked way up in the air. You can tell she's getting pumped with A LOT of adrenaline A LOT of the time which must contribute 100% to why she's been so difficult.

She's got massive knots on the underside of her neck from holding her head so high. I've been working on massaging them to loosen them up and see if I can get her neck a little more supple but it's going to take more than massage to get her to keep her head down. While I was traipsing around on the internet I found this article, "Head Down - Calm Down," clicker training to teach your horse how to lower its head and relax. Perfect- that's exactly what Gwen needs.

I started with her tonight. I brought her out into the aisle, stood next to her and pressed down on her poll. As soon as she lowered her head, I clicked and gave her a treat. That girl is so quick, she learned to lower her head to a very light touch in less than 10 minutes. Of course we're going to keep this up. I can see a lot of good coming out of teaching her this!


  1. Sorry if this ends up being a duplicate post - something weird happened when I went to publish.

    The first week I had Gem, my new vet actually recommended that I regularly gently push down on Gem's poll for two reasons; to calm him down and to put him in a submissive (but calm) position. As far as calming him, it works. As far as being submissive, not so much - he still gives me the business. :-)

  2. That's so interesting, did the vet tell you why it works? Sounds like you have a good vet. I've had two so far and though they both know about how excitable Gwen is neither of them said anything about lowering her head.

    My gelding tests his limits every once in a while too. Every couple of weeks we have to have a little discussion about rudeness...

  3. My vet didn't tell me what the mechanics were, but someone I know at the barn who has a massage therapist for their horse said it has something to do with loosening up the spine. Actually, when you think about it, horse's drop their head when the doze or when they are eating. I think my vet thought it was important because Gem was a little skittish when he first arrived and needed to be calmed down! :-)

  4. How cool that she got head lowering so fast!

    Isn't giddyupflix fun?

    You would probably enjoy Alexandra Kurland's "Overcoming fear and the power of cues" DVD. (and I think giddyupflix has it). She uses headlowering to help a horse who is terrified of saddles. The headlowering gives the horse control over the situation--by lowering her head she can make the saddle go away. They gradually introduce the saddle more and more until she tolerates it. It's a neat DVD, I wrote a bit about it on my website last year: