26 Aug 2022

The JenkuMethod:  Relaxation Part 1:  Relaxing the Jaw

Relaxation, and specifically relaxing the jaw of your horse, is an important, but often misunderstood part of training and riding your horse.

When we put a bit into the horse’s mouth and we put rein on the left-hand side and rein on the right-hand side and legs behind it, we are actually closing the horse into a rectangle that the horse can feel but they cannot see (The Invisible Box).

This makes horses feel claustrophobic and when they feel claustrophobic, their stress levels go up. When their stress levels go up, their back muscles become contracted and that is why they lift up their poll.

Ideally, you want your horse to be uncontracted and relaxed in their back muscle, stretching forward and down into a connexion.

Relaxing the jaw: A simple exercise

In order to achieve this, there is a very simple but effective exercise you can do before mounting your horse:

  • Once you’ve tacked your horse up and you’ve put a saddle and a bridle on, go and stand in front of your horse facing your horse.
  • Put your thumb of your right hand into the snaffle ring on the left-hand side of horse’s face
  • Use your index finger and your middle finger on the noseband and just in front or on either side of the cheek piece.
  • Do the same with your left hand. Lift your left thumb into the right snaffle ring on the right-hand side of horse’s face and you do the same with your index finger in your middle finger.

The intention is to lift the bit up into the mouth corners with your thumbs. This creates pressure in the mouth corners.   Your horse will soon start licking and chewing, trying to make the pressure in their mouth go away.

They may also try and back away from you, they may bob their head up and down, they may push into you. However, keep a steady pressure in their mouth corners and wait.

At some stage your horse is going to offer you a jaw release where they actually start licking and chewing and the moment they lick and chew, you let go of the bit and the noseband completely.

This demonstrates release as feedback.

Making the brain connection

You horse will start realizing that every time you stand facing him and you pick the bit up on the left and right mouth corners, his licking and chewing will cause a clear action/consequence correlation. Your horse’s mouth will let the brain know that there is a foreign object in his mouth and the brain will try and encourage the tongue to move and attempt to swallow the bit. Obviously, the horse cannot swallow the bit, but it will definitely trigger the rest & digest response (see Uncovering the Mind/Body connection in horses)

Please note! It is extremely important not to push the bit towards your horse’s chest. If you push the bit towards your horse’s chest, you will be squashing the horse’s tongue which is a particularly sensitive organ.  This is not only uncomfortable for the horse but may even painful.

The brain learns by pattern recognition.  I suggest you do the exact same exercise every day before you get on and you repeat the exercise 10 times.  Very soon, you will find that as soon as you lift the bit up into your horse’s mouth corners, your horse will start licking and chewing instead of trying all the alternatives for trying to figure out what it is that makes the pressure stop.

Relaxation starts in the horse’s brain, and this is the first step in training your horse to give you a jaw release response to a specific cue. 

Next week in The JenkuMethod: How to get your horse from a jaw release to stretching forward and down

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