In order to progress when learning to ride a horse, you’ll need to understand the terms ‘flexion’ and ‘bend.’ There is an important distinction between the two and they have separate functions.
In this post we’ll look at flexion.
What is Flexion?
A horse is flexing when he turns his head sideways in the joint between his head and neck, called the axis joint.
This is the only part of the horse to change: the rest of the horse’s spine stays straight. If you look at a horse flexing to the right, you’ll see the back part of his right cheek bone slide under the parotid glands, closer to the neck muscles.
(The parotid glands are part of the horse’s salivary system. They are the fibrous bulges you can see between the base of your horse’s ear and the back of his lower jaw.)
When your horse flexes to one side the crest of his mane flips over to the side of the flexion: his head stays straight with both ears at the same height. You can see a glimpse of his inside eye and nostril if he is flexed correctly.
Why Flex Your Horse?
Flexing teaches your horse to accept the outside rein - allowing its close contact on his neck – and to submit to the inside rein aid. It’s the beginning of suppling your horse, important for general submission and later for bending your horse in turns. Learning to ride a horse correctly means being able to flex him.
How Do You Flex Your Horse?
The horse should first be moving forward from your seat and legs into a steady contact. Exert more tension on the inside rein (the side the horse will flex to) while yielding almost the same amount on the outside rein. As soon as he flexes, your inside hand should lighten.
If he tilts his head – with one ear higher than the other – the outside rein is too tight. If the inside rein is too tight, your horse’s neck will be shortened and he can’t move freely forward.
Practice gradually flexing him to one side, straightening his neck then flexing him the other way. If he does this easily, he willingly accepts your inside and outside reins and you have reached an important milestone in your riding.
Next we’ll look at bending your horse.