Retraining to break at the poll??


I would love to hear some suggestions on ways to retrain my gelding to break at the poll. Currently he is breaking at the third vertebrae instead which causes his ears and head/face to be carried lower than the third vertebrae. So he looks over rounded I guess sometimes.  In looking at lots of pictures on this site from some really big shows I see many horses carrying themselves like my horse. But I would really like to make sure I learn how to start helping him to lift his face up and break correctly at the poll. He is mostly a western morgan horse, I have just started to ride him hunt this year as well. He is beautifully built, but his neck is on the thicker side where it attaches to his body and it does naturally come out slightly angled forward instead of almost straight up. I have heard of  overcheck and/or side check bridles but I am not sure how to use either or even if they would be helpful? Should I plan to spend time ground training for awhile before riding again to help with this issue?? Thanks for insight into my question.

Guess I should add that I am one of those “do it yourselfers”. I would love to show my horse on the Morgan circuit, but currently feel that my horse and I probably need to gain a little more “show-ring” experience at lower level shows. :)

25 Responses to Retraining to break at the poll??

  1. leslie says:

    I’m going to say right up front that I’m no trainer and I probably don’t know what I’m talking about, but I can relate to this topic. In my case, my horse doesn’t break at the third vertebra, but he doesn’t flex at the poll, usually, either. He kinda just…doesn’t flex.

    You might want to try doing some basic dressage-type exercises, like a lot of circles, changing direction, and transitions. Jane Savoie has some exercises that help get your horse on the bit:

    I would stay away from overchecks and sidechecks. You can use them to force a horse into a frame, but a lot of horses will just lean on them or fight them, which does the opposite of what you want to do by building muscle on the underside of the neck instead of the topline.

    Honestly, I don’t think Morgan judges care if the horse flexes at the poll or not. I’ve seen overflexed horses winning in western and hunt, even though the rules state that hyperflexion is a fault and being slightly ahead of the vertical is acceptable. I was watching Arabian Youth Nationals the other day and noticed that pretty much all Arabs seem to break at the third vertebra naturally, which makes me wonder if some Morgans aren’t just built that way, too. That could be a whole other topic, though.

  2. Montehorse says:

    I am no trainer either.

    One of the best Arabian trainers in the country trains at our barn. All of her horses (Saddleseat, Western, or Hunt) are worked in a martingale, snaffle and straight rein running through the martingale. This ensures that they are flexing properly at the pole, and not bringing their head behind the vertical.

    You may also want to contact Rick Davis stables. Rick is one of the best trainers in the country for western horses. He can probably give you some advice.

    In my opinion, I think that muscling is extremely important to the overall look of the horse. Make sure that you are muscling his topline, and not underneath. If you don’t, it will create a thicker poll and overall thicker neck.

  3. empressive says:

    Probably the easiest and quickest thing to do that will help the horse is flexing. Stick him in a snaffle and get him to bring his nose to your boot while you are in the saddle. He should hold his head there without you putting pressure on the bit. At first he will be “heavy” on the bit, but over time he should become lighter. As though the slightest pressure from the reins catches his attention. Initially he will not hold his head by your boot by himself. He may hold his head there for a second then swing it back, that is fine. Over time you will be able to ask him to hold his head there longer.

    The object of this is to stretch the neck muscles and get them to relax. When relaxed he will flex better and even be a little lighter on the bit. This can also be done on the ground and may be easier.

    In the meantime you can figure out a workout schedule, but this is a little thing that should help a little.

  4. LLavery says:


    You have gotten some wonderful suggestions from some very knowledgeable people here. Conditioning, flexing and many hours of proper work can be of great help. As with all issues that concern a horse’s wearing the bridle, insuring that the horse’s dental work is current is imperative to the sucess of his development. I must say, however, don’t be to quick to disregard the tools used by great horseman of many breeds when dealing with flexion issues. By that I mean “check” bridles. Used properly, they do not force a horse do do something he is not capable of nor should they be used in such a way as to have a horse hang on them.
    In cojunction with the various techniques already mentioned, the should prove invaluable to you in your quest. The following link may be of further interest to you concerning this issue.

    Wish much good luck.

    LF Lavery

  5. lezlie6 says:

    Thank you for all of the replys!! :)
    I totally understand about correct muscleing. I do not want to create improper muscleing underneath his neck. I do practice lateral and verticle flexion everyday that I work with him. He is fine with lateral flexion, will give his head willingly. Not consistant with verticle flexion. At first I was thrilled when I thought he was finally “getting it”, but now I think he often is “overflexing” as I mentioned. I think I need to develope a way to work with him where he can vertically flex without dropping and tucking his nose in slightly. But I do not want to force him into a headset like mentioned above in the comments. Thats where I am kind of “stuck”. I try to go back to the snaffle often. Unfortunately my horse is not one that easily gives to the bit. In a snaffle often times he will lean on it instead of carrying himself.
    I understand this is a lot of info. requiring more than an quick easy answer. I really appreciate the input I am getting. Thank you all again for taking the time to reply.

  6. lezlie6 says:

    Again, thank you for all of the great advice. I am always open to learning from others with knowledge to share! :)
    I don’t think I would be comfortable trying to use a overcheck on my own, but possibly a side check. I can understand that if properly used, probably a good tool to have in the tool box.
    Does anyone know of a website that might have video or pictures illustrating proper use of one?

  7. alpmorgans says:

    for side check and overchecks, i dont think there is a right or wrong way to use them. it helps if you have a training bridle, which has the loops for the two to go into. they attach to either side of the bit, through the rings, and an overcheck attached to the top of the surcingle, and side checks attach a little lower, on either side.

    i personally think overchecks are better than side checks, but i guess the correct way to use them is to use them slowly. dont throw your horse into a tight check, or they will just hang on it and fight it. you can tell when your horse starts to hang on it, so just keep it loose at first and tighten it as their muscles develop where they need. and when you horse starts to hang on it after their muscles are developing, you will know this is too much of an abnormal position for your horses head.

  8. jns767 says:

    In the past, I’ve used a home made draw rein set (this technique was shown to me by a trainer). My set is just a soft yacht type rope. Anyway, I was shown to clip one end to the saddle/cinch/surcingle and to thread the other end through one side of the snaffle bit. Take the rope and pull it up along the cheek piece of the bridle and place it over the poll. I was told to be sure that the rope makes direct contact with the poll area, so I usually have to move the bridle a bit back to accomodate that. Next, thread the other end through the other side of the bit then connect it to your saddle/girth/surcingle on the off side. From there, you can tighten either by knotting or buckling the rope accordingly. I was told this works by putting pressure on the poll to encourage bend there. Of course, this may be rudimentary, but all I know is by lunging regularly this way; and slowly increasing the tension, the horse built muscle and learned to bend very nicely and in all the right places :)

  9. Jrchloe says:

    What I was trying to show with the posting of those sites was: don’t you think you might be paying too much attention to the front end of the horse and maybe should start looking at the hind end and back to find your solution?

  10. Jennifer says:

    I’ll agree with Chloe. Since you are already riding him hunt seat you need to ride him forward into the contact. If he drops behind the vertical give with the rein and ride him forward. If you ride him in a smooth snaffle and he gets heavy, give a half halt and ride him forward. He needs to learn to follow the contact not just give to it.

  11. empressive says:

    You know what, can we see a video of the horse?

    That would definately help a lot better. I see what Jrchloe is saying. Depending on how your horse is already holding himself, if he is an type hunter or new hunter, any lameness issues could pop up as well. A video is definately the way to go.

    Need to make sure that the horse is moving as a whole, otherwise no of the above will give you exactly what you want. If the horse is not moving all together then working one place may through out another or possibly working on his headset may simply make his head set worse.

  12. lezlie6 says:

    I don’t currently have a video that I can upload to this site. I will try. I think you all have offered very good sound advice and insight. In reviewing my situation more thouroughly I believe it boils down to I haven’t been able to get my horse to carry himself consistantly on the bit. He is either heavy on my hands, or sometimes lifting his head and gaping his mouth, or when he does “give” it is usually by dropping a little too low and getting slightly behind the bit.
    I am not a trainer as I have said. I try to learn as much as I can from others and reading. I have had him with two trainers who have both said he is just a difficult horse to work with. I love him dearly and we have really come a long way. But getting him to “quiet” in the bridle and carry himself consistantly is what we need to have a “finished presentation” for the show ring. He appears to be “under himself” and to use his hind end.
    Thanks again to all who have commented. I will continue to try to figure him out, and hopefully move forward in our training together. :)

  13. lezlie6 says:

    O.K. here is video from our one and only Morgan show this year. Please keep in mind as I mentioned that its just Cig and I. No trainers involved. I began trying to ride hunt seat in mid April this spring, this show was in mid June. I was pretty dog gone nervous and a bit excited! (this is really far from where he & I began, so quite an accomplishment, even a”as is”) :)

    I am riding Cig in a solid correction mouth Kimberwyck. I have a mullen mouth pelham with double reins I would have preferred to use, but felt he was too heavy on my hands in that. If you watch the whole clip you will see a little of all I mentioned above, some pretty good, some not so good. I am open to your (gentle :)) constructive criticisms, and feedback.

  14. Montehorse says:


    I just watched the video. He’s a very cute hunter :) My horse was doing the same thing with the Kimberwyck bit when I had him hunter. I changed him over to a full bridle, and he responded much better to the independent changes in the bit. I rode him at home regularly in a snaffle and draw reins through a martingale, so he flexed correctly. You can even work him on the ground in lines using this too. Change over to the full bridle once he finally gives to you. Don’t work him regularly in the full bridle. I think it decreases a horses sensitivity.


    Make sure that his teeth have been floated. I have to float my horse’s teeth twice a year.

    You may want to have a trainer look at the bit to see if it is properly fitted in his mouth. Have a trainer also adjust the curb chain if needed. Though I’m an AOTR, when it comes to bitting, a trainer is a necessity.

    (This is just my opinion!!!)

  15. Montehorse says:


    I just watched the video. He’s a very cute hunter :) My horse was doing the same thing with the Kimberwyck bit when I had him hunter. I changed him over to a full bridle, and he responded much better to the independent changes in the bit. I rode him at home regularly in a snaffle and draw reins through a martingale, so he flexed correctly. You can even work him on the ground in lines using this too. Change over to the full bridle once he finally gives to you. Don’t work him regularly in the full bridle. I think it decreases a horses sensitivity.


    Make sure that his teeth have been floated. I have to float my horse’s teeth twice a year.

    You may want to have a trainer look at the bit to see if it is properly fitted in his mouth. Have a trainer also adjust the curb chain if needed. Though I’m an AOTR, when it comes to bitting, a trainer is a necessity.

    I also heard German Martingales work pretty well too. I have never used one on a hunter though.

    (This is just my opinion!!!)

  16. leslie says:

    He’s cute! I’m curious, though. What made you decide to use a kimberwicke? If you’re concerned about him dumping over too much, it seems like any kind of leverage bit would be working against you. Have you tried playing around with different types of snaffles? If you work him in a smooth snaffle, maybe he’d have more respect for a twisted mouthpiece so that he wouldn’t lean on it, but it also wouldn’t have that leverage action that might cause him to dump over.

    On the other hand, if you work him in a harsher snaffle, sometimes moving to a lighter one will actually prevent a horse from leaning on the bit. I think some horses develop bracing against the bit as a sort of defense mechanism against a bit that’s harder than their mouth is. I rode in a clinic with a Saddlebred trainer once who had me (on a Saddlebred) and the other rider (on a Morgan) change out our double twisted wire snaffles (yikes) for plain, smooth, loose-ring snaffles. Both horses went better after the switch and had to be much more comfortable. But you never know what they’ll prefer, so I think it’s worth it to try out any snaffle you can get your hands on.

    You said you used to show him western. Was he fussy or overflexing in a western curb, or did he seem more comfortable in it than he does in English bits? Maybe it’s more of a contact issue than the mouthpiece itself?

    All of this is, of course, assuming you’ve ruled out any possible dental or tack fit problems.

  17. Jennifer says:

    You have a very nice, safe, typey Morgan! You are doing a fantastic job. I believe part of the problem is that you need to continue working to develop a more independent hand. They seemed to follow your posting and at one point it looked like you lost balance a little. Remember too, that you don’t have to walk immediately, give herself a few steps to get coordinated. The walk the first direction was a bit abrupt and he objected. In general he needs to be more bold and forward. He was definitely on the forehand at the canter. That will take time to develop the carrying ability.
    Fabulous job for the first show.
    Have you thought about trailering in for lessons? There are many qualified trainers in Michigan that would be happy to work with you.

  18. Jennifer says:

    Oh and definitely have the teeth checked!

  19. Montehorse says:

    I agree with Jennifer. A trainer can help point you in the right direction. If you are making the change from western to hunter, riding lessons can help build confidence.

  20. empressive says:

    Thanks for the video he is quite precious as is your lovely commenting family. It’s nice having good support!

    As for Cig the stink, Leslie and Monte have provided excellent advise. I’m sure you know already that working him in the snaffle will take time to get him back in form. The main thing is to get him consistently lighter on the bit. Another thing I noticed is that he seems to be fairly observent of your seat cues not just the bit.

    You may want to lower the bit in his mouth, I noticed that this helps when horses are harder on the bit. Just enought to make him hold the bit himself. While giving him something to do it will also force him to be more sensitive and set the stage for him to accept your commands.

    For now I think that is it… OH! Don’t forget us here and please let us know how it all works out! ;)

  21. empressive says:

    P.S. making him hold the bit by lowering it will help him keep his mouth closed. Not quite a sure fix, but a good start.

  22. LLavery says:

    Here is a bit more information that might be useful to you. bending

    LF Lavery

  23. LLavery says:

    That link is not perfect, look for :
    Did You Mean “Pole” Bending or Poll Bending?
    Posted on Feb 3,
    2009: bending

  24. lezlie6 says:

    HI All!
    Thanks again for all of the thoughtful, helpful comments and advice. :)
    I am going through and trying to “digest” what everyone has offered. Hopefully I can print this whole post with comments out so I have it in hard copy to reference. Couple quick responses to some of your comments.

    Cig had his teeth done in May. New dentist for us. He actually found that Cig had remnants of his wolfe teeth still on both sides of his mouth!! Dentist removed remnants, was pretty sure that having them removed completely (correctly) would help improve Cig’s comfort carrying a bit. I was really hopeful for “big” change, but unfortunately can’t say too much changed. Can’t believe my previous dentists (2) never realized he had parts of his wolfe teeth still there.
    Anyway. I have two daughters (16 & 8) who both ride and show. We keep our horses on our property. But any money available for lessons or clinics etc… goes to my girls first. So getting a trainers help is not always feasible for me (especially not last two years with our current economy).

    I have tried many different bits in ground work as well as in riding (western & recently hunt) with differing results. I have never tried the side check, over check or full bridle.

    I am not quitting or stopping western, just trying to add hunt seat. Video is a great learning tool! I did notice too that my hands need work and I need to make sure I am not balancing on them especially during transitions. (the trot and posting balanced and correctly is still very much a work in progress)

    So I realize there is no “quick fix” to my issues. Cig and I need to keep practicing and working together to get where I hope to get. I really really appreciate this forum and the comments and advice and suggestions offered by all of you. Thank you for taking the time to respond and give me a hand!

    I will check back in with progress reports, when there has been progress :)

    Take Care!

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