Long & Low // Training Aids
Recently I uploaded a video about training and developing a horse's self carriage through what's called Long & Low. In another article I will go into specifics about the reasons behind why you need to train all horses to first carry themselves in a long and low position before expecting them to be able to carry a rider, and then eventually to obtain true collection. (please keep in mind long & low is different than low, deep, and round) However, in this article I want to talk more specifically about the aids I will sometimes use to help the process of obtaining long and low or help in preparing a horse for a rider.
I would first like to start off by saying that these aids do not teach a horse to use its back and develop its topline, no training aid or gadget will. If you are using these aids to create "collection" or strengthen your horse's back and neck you are using them wrong. It takes months, years even, of correct training from the hind end forward for the horse to be prepared enough to use these aids in they way they were intended. The aids should never be used on a horse uneducated on how to carry itself or by a novice/uneducated handler/rider/trainer, as they will end up doing far more harm than good. It is by far safer to never use training aids/gadgets at all.
There are however particular situations where I find very specific training aids to be of use, and I would like to share with you when those times might be and how to use the aids correctly.
* disclaimer, your horse needs to have a complete and full understanding of how to lunge (not just run circles around you) before attempting to use any of these aids. This is not an article about teaching your horse how to lunge.
The Chambon is a very unique tool in the world of horse training aids/gadgets. It is one of the very few tools that doesn't ever in any way pull back on the horse's nose or mouth, therefore it avoids the possibility of teaching the horse to go behind the vertical all together. This makes it a relatively safe tool, with a few precautions.
It works by running a rope/strap attached to the cinch/girth/surcingle between the front legs, then along the neck up to the poll of the horse. At the poll it had a curved bridle like piece that attaches to the crown of the bridle/halter and supports the continuation of the rope to where it connects to the nose piece or bit of the bridle/halter.
When a horse goes to lift it's head too high it will apply poll pressure behind the ears, encouraging the horse to lower it's head back down. The bit/halter attachment at the bottom is hardly engaged if at all, so the majority of any pressure rests on the poll of the head. When the horse lowers it's head the pressure is completely released and the horse has full movement of it's head. Think of it as like the chambon is creating a "ceiling" to limit the height to which the horse can lift it's head.
Most horses accept this piece of equipment extremely well and may only take a few sessions with it on for them to get the idea that their head is supposed to be going down and out, not up and braced. But, as with all training aids, it has guidelines that need to be strictly followed to avoid misuse.
The horse needs to have a prior understanding of giving to poll pressure. You cannot just start using the chambon out of the blue. You run the risk of the horse having a panic attack when it feels the "ceiling", and honestly I don't blame them. If you watch the video I published about teaching long and low I show you how to begin teach giving to poll pressure.
Never start off a lunging or riding session using the chambon, start off with it off the horse until any bucks or freshness are gone and you've got a full engaged horse. Then you can put on the equipment but do not "activate" it by attaching it to the nose piece or bit. After the horse is used to having the equipment on you may go ahead and fully attach it.
The length the chambon should be set at is unique to every horse. Some horses have shorter or longer necks than others. In the beginning it needs to be long enough that the horse can easily raise it's head to a slightly above neutral position, but not long enough that the horse could become tangled in the line if it were to spook. As the horse becomes familiar with the chambon (over many sessions) you may shorten the line a little at a time, but don't ever go short enough that the horse is unable to lift it's head to an almost neutral position.
The reason one might use a Chambon is to help jump start the process of teaching a horse to go long & low. With the use of positive reinforcement and clicker training I have found that it sits in my tack room collecting dust more than it's gets used, since I rarely find I need it anymore. However, for a horse unfamiliar with clicker training or for a handler that isn't comfortable yet using positive reinforcement this can be an excellent tool to help out getting started in long & low.
Just for this video and article I pulled my dusty chambon out of the tackroom and got a few pictures and short clips of how a chambon is supposed to be used.
In this first photo the horse has begun to lift it's head to the point where it's activating the Chambon, placing pressure on the poll of the head, telling the horse to drop it's head back down. (this is the point where a horse knowing how to give to poll pressure is absolutely critical). This horse is well accustomed to the Chambon and therefore has a shortened line, in the beginning the line was a good foot longer as she learned to work with the Chambon.
In the next photo you can see she has chosen to give to poll pressure and drop her head into a long and low position, her nose is in front of the vertical and there is nothing pulling on her head or mouth. She is now working long and low, but lacks a lot of impulsion from behind and will continue to work on this to develop her back (shes a 22 year old horse that has only just begun working long and low. She's stepping up more in behind in the first photo, but this also has to do with her hock/stifle arthritis, her left hind does not come through as far as her right.)
This is a prime example of how you can drop the head but it doesn't mean the back is automatically engaged, but it's a start! From this point we will continue strengthening her back and hind end and prepare her to better carry a rider.
( #gasp Am I right?! lol. Sorry, I have to lighten things up sometimes as I get very serious with these de