How low is too low? Head position in the show ring.

An excellent article from champion Bob Avila, addresses a horse show  trend that’s been troubling  me as a horseperson and judge.  Another trend I hope our governing associations will consider  “reining back” , for the welfare of our industry and the welfare of the horse.  (Every discipline has its trends!) It’s the extreme low, even cowering head position on some reining horses.  I’m NOT talking about  naturally low head conformation. And I’m NOT talking about lowering the horse’s head between maneuvers to re-focus . But when it looks forced and tense,  it seems  out of step with reining’s  general goal of a “willingly” guided horse.  Here are some excerpts:

“You may have seen this at a top reining event… As a rider guides his horse through a pattern, the horse packs his head pleasure-horse low. Then, after every dynamic turnaround, backup, or stop, the horse’s head drops dramatically lower, his nose nearly hitting the dirt. The crowd goes wild.The horse’s dropped-head profile is nearly identical to the horse in the iconic 1915 James Earle Fraser “End of the Trail” bronze, featuring a lone American Indian figure and his weary horse. Yet it garners applause. What gives?…

Some naturally low-headed horses have won high-profile reinings. That’s resulted in people trying to imitate the flat-neck look on reiners that aren’t built to do it. And that’s when you run into trouble. It’s like trying to fit a round peg in a square hole. 

While I appreciate and choose to ride naturally level-necked horses, the over-dramatic, “End of the Trail” neck drop is overdone. It’s artificial. And it’s become a fad. Unfortunately, the reining industry seems to be promoting (and rewarding) it. I’m not dissing horses that bend in the back, drop their necks, and reach out with their noses through a stop—that’s natural. They’re using their heads and necks to balance. 

But when a horse dives his nose to the ground after a maneuver? That’s not natural. I hope it stays a fad (and fades away) rather than becoming a trend. In addition to being unattractive, it’s inviting criticism. The pleasure horse industry has been criticized for years for having horses’ heads too low. Reiners are now getting criticized for the same thing because of what’s being taken to an extreme. Extremes attract negative attention”