My Quarter Horse’s Head Set Is NOT TOO LOW And This Is Why

In the time that I have ridden in AQHA horse shows, the amount of comments I have heard/seen criticizing the low headset of the quarter horses in these events has shocked me.

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Multiple World Champion Hot Ones Only From Facebook

Firstly, let’s define a “low” headset. The top of the horse’s poll should be level with their withers, creating a sort of line that stretches from the poll all the way to the dock. Of course, head position is determined by the activity you want your horse to perform and their conformation. A horse that jumps will need a higher headset in order to see the jump, while a western pleasure horse should have a lower headset—and here’s why:

1.   Balance. The ideal frame for a quarter horse in a hunter under saddle class is one in which the top of the poll is level with the horse’s withers. This headset creates a sort of line that extends from the horse’s dock to their poll, allowing the horse to balance through its midsection, not by using its tail. Additionally, when a horse that is built with lower neck conformation holds his head too high, he will hollow out his back, creating a strung out movement behind and a heavy step in front. With a lower head, the horse will round his back, driving forward into the contact of the bit.

2.   Extension. A great hunter under saddle horse will have a long, slow extension of their legs. In the correct frame, the horse’s front leg should reach the ground under their nose, ensuring that the horse is balanced and driving forward from behind. In order to keep forward motion while setting a horse’s frame, the rider should encourage the horse into the frame, causing the hind legs to step into the footprint of the front leg.

3.   Equanimity. This word translates to “level-headedness”, which is funny because its root has a sound similar to “equine”. It seems to be a sign saying that, with a headset that makes the poll level with the dock, the horse will be calm. But, if you don’t believe in signs, simple observation should suffice.

Now that you’ve heard my reasons, do you agree? And, do you know any other reasons why a low frame is good?

Written By, Isabel DeLano. Horses should carry their heads the way their conformation dictates, end of story. Share this on Facebook if you agree!

37 Responses

    • David Burrows

      If you don’t like it change the RULE book! That is a judges’ bible.

      • joanne

        the problem is JUDGES don’t make horses, they make Fashion-rules! can change with a whim, and thus another false movement for horses to learn. Even the big lick TWH have a RULE book for the barbarian crap they do to horses. Silly business all around. Let a horse be a horse and learn as a human how to work with and ride a horse they way he/she IS — not what some man-made rule book says.

    • Kay

      Agreed…last I knew the AQHA horses were to carry their heads/necks straight out or level with their top line…….I wonder if the owner ever considered that the majority of the horse’s weight is carried on their front end….take this into consideration the horse is hardly balanced…..

  1. David Burrows

    The horse’s head is too low!! I agree the poll should be even with the withers but put a straight edge on the picture and see for yourself. The RULE book says if the poll is lower than the withers for three strides you are disqualified!

  2. J

    If that is the case, why is the real hunters on the hunter circuit moving with fluidity and balance with beautiful extension and higher headsets?

    • Anonymous

      Ever heard of form to function? She started off by saying hunters that go over fences must ride up higher in the neck. Many hunters are also not breed with their necks set lower on their shoulders making a “too low” headset look and feel unnatural. When I showed my QH in H/J USEF/HJ circuit hunters he jumped with the head/body set for courses but would hack exactly the same as we would at an AQHA show and he still won almost every hack he ever went in, never placing lower than 3rd in his whole career. He held himself the best for his conformation and for his stride/movement and it never went unnoticed. And yes, he pinned equally as well at AQHA shows. Had his conformation been with his head set higher, then I would have happily rode him around like a “traditional hunter” but for him and many other QH’s to achieve their full potential for movement, balance, roundness, etc it comes with a lower head set.

  3. Sh

    So is he disqualified for trotting around his corral? When you are done-go pick on the reiners and pleasure horses again

  4. Anonymous

    Funny this stallion pictured is ranked the best hunter seat stallion in the world earning more the 104 thousand himself being a 13 time congress champion and a 9 time world champion producing multiple world and congress champions.. i suggest haters should go and educate themselves before commenting

  5. Laura

    I agree that the horse should be the boss of his head set. The balance should be throughout his whole body. What I see in this picture is a head too low, excess weight on the front end, lack of extension and front legs acting like pile drivers with a toe first landing that insures a speedy road to navicular.

  6. Beverly Sutton Lawrence

    If you want to continue riding with your horse’s nose at knee-level, then I suggest you stay out of the hunter ring, and move to the reining ring or Western pleasure ring. Form follows function – and a hunter with nostrils at knee level is a danger, in the hunt field – which is the function for which the form of the ‘hunter class’ is developed. And, as Kay mentioned, tracking with appropriate forward reach from the hind end is not determined by the hind foot being placed in a vertical line created by the horse’s nostrils to the ground, but by being placed on or in front of the mark left by the horse’s forefoot.

    Joanne, above, writes: “the problem is JUDGES don’t make horses, they make Fashion-rules!” Way to go, Joanne, to insult the judges in equine endeavours – who obviously (according to your statement) must only get their credentials to be judges from 7th Avenue, in NYC … NOT! Judges become judges by knowing what is, and what is not, appropriate to the function of the class.

    • Joanne

      Beverly – exactly my point! Defining performance in a CLASS has become an arena Fashion/Fad SHOW. I do not call this performance — it is manipulation for sake of appearances. If you really want horses performing form-to-function — they would all look/move differently based on individual confirmation/size/body balance. Making them all cookie cutter molds is a negative result of the show ring (opinion – mine!) and the crazy rule books and Judges that nature just doesn’t abide by. I don’t say it is all the fault of Judges – they are the result of the desire for HUMANS to WIN something — most at the expense of the horse. Just giving my thoughts and if they contrast others, there is no insult or judgment intended, just differing opinions and food for thought.

    • Cindy

      judges become judges through ‘bookwork’… the study the ‘book’, write a test… the head set is unnatural… why I no longer compete in AQHA…

  7. annie

    Under harness or at liberty the lower headset is balanced for the horses bodies’ center of gravity. Addinng a riders bodyweight to the topline of the horse, raises the center of gravity of the pair. It’s good to remember they are trying to balance us riders as well.

  8. Lisa

    Such an ignorant article. AQHA.. Has the worst shows for peanut rolling that Ive every attended. and then the new thing AQHA has is the “trop” let us not forget that…Stop reading ignorant article and forgod sake quit sending AQHA money to take part in their bullshit

  9. Alan J. Wedge

    wow! you do not have a clue! those reasons you wrote tells me you do not undertand how the horse moves correctly. I have never seen a horse trot in a field like that! once again the horse suffers at the expense of man!

  10. Alan J. Wedge

    I should say this is a nice looking horse but not coming from behind to carry himself. But cannot as this individual is incorrectly ridden… I do not care how many wins they have! It is not a true trot and look at the muscling over his back. it is almost diminished! More education is needed here!

  11. Annette

    That horse’s poll is well below the whithers in this photo, btw, but I’ve seen horses in Western pleasure classes with their heads so low they’re practically kicking their chins. Any posture that is so far outside a horses natural carriage is bound to cause issues with breathing, movement and soundness. JMHO

  12. Zoey

    Have any of you guys seen what I call a “pleasure bump” in a pleasure horses back??. Well if you havent to take a look around at these pleasure horse where the back and hips meet there is a huge bump right there. at horse shows I have looked and watched these horses show with that bump and what I see those horses hold their head so low to where they are eating dirt from the arena. Now from what I have learned to make your horse hold their low for you the have to lift their back and when they do that they lift the area where the back and hips meet. Also the horse with this foo foo head set they’re putting so much strain and the lower part of their neck they can rlly get hurt from putting too much strain in that area. And yet people wonder why most of these horses are so mean we’ll take a look around and see really what they have to do.

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