How to reduce tension in the poll. The Poll-Atlas junction is one of the most important parts of your horses’ neck. Learning how to keep this area supple will benefit your horse’s wellbeing as well as improve their ridden work and way of going. This area can become tense and easily strained from every day riding or from pulling back on a headcollar. We asked Dressage rider and coach Jess Dunn for her advice on how to keep this area supple. Here are her top tips to try on your horse.

Not every ridden session has to be high-intensity training. I can spend full sessions in walk, understanding the feedback that my horse is giving down the rein, these sessions can often be the most rewarding. Attempting to keep the poll supple is difficult, as it is not a hugely mobile joint and it is very easy to bypass and to become focused on the horse's back or jaw. The poll however is an extremely important area to try and keep free from tension, especially when it comes to lightness and ease in contact.

Ridden exercises to reduce poll tension:


This is an exercise I like to use to help keep the poll supple, and I will always revert to it if I’m finding a horse difficult, it is detailed in the pictures below.



This first picture (below) shows the horse’s natural head carriage. You can see how he is very slightly set against the hand (and tactically sunbathing enjoying the break from work). This feeling for the rider would be of reduced elasticity and result in the rider having a straighter elbow, tipping slightly forward off their seat bones and pivoting a little more into the knee roll. This will lead to negative tension in the horse and rider.

Tension in the poll

I would first begin this exercise in halt then progress up the paces once the horse has understood what is being asked of him. Stand your horse and begin with an even contact down both reins. The start by lifting the inside hand, whilst keeping the outside rein secure and with positive tension. With the inside hand lifted the rider then ‘jiggles’ the rein/bit until the horse softens (like the picture below). As soon as the horse makes an attempt to loosen its jaw and relax, the rider must relax the rein too. Repeat the process as often as it takes for softness to be maintained. Make sure when lifting the hand up that you are lifting it with the rein staying gently against the horse’s neck. The rider needs to make sure the hand is not crossing over the crest of the neck as this is likely to result in tilting at the poll. When ‘jiggling’ the rein to create a reaction, there must be no forceful pull (upwards/over the neck or back towards the rider’s body). It’s very important that force is not used at any point. The aim is for the horse to be reactive and become soft from small movements down the rein.


The picture to the right shows the front angle of what you are looking to achieve, little to no bend at the base of the neck and just a smallpoll tension turning of the poll as shown. The trick to doing this exercise correctly is that you don’t want the neck to bend, otherwise you are stretching more than just the poll.






When to do this exercise to help reduce tension in the poll:

This exercise, if done in a walk, can be done as soon as you pick your reins up to start your session. It’s important that the poll and jawline are soft before starting your warm-up routine so is a good exercise to build into the beginning of your warmup. I would save the exercise in trot and canter until you’ve done at least some of your warmup routine. As it’s not the most demanding exercise, it doesn’t require the horse to technically be ‘warmed up’ so won’t do any damage to the horse, but I find it gives better results if you have completed some of your initial warm-up before integrating.




What in hand exercises can I do to keep my horse's poll supple:

These are my favourite in hand stretches to do.


The first is to stretch the poll forwards by putting a small amount of downward pressure on the neck. Stand in front of your horse and slowly reach up the sides of the head for your hands to meet behind the ears. The horse’s head should rest on one of your shoulders. Then slowly apply a small amount of downward pressure to the neck with your hands as you ask your horse to stretch and hold the stretch for 20 seconds if possible. The horses usually find it quite relaxing and soon learn to release and allow you to stretch this area.


Horses trying this exercise for the first time are bound to be cautious and maybe wary of what you are asking them to do. Take your time when starting out with these exercises. There’s no rush, just try and ask for a little bit more each time you try until your horse has got the hang of it.


The second stretch will stretch the muscles around the sides of the poll. Stand to the side of your horse and place your arm over the nose and the hand around the underside of the cheekbone. With your opposite hand push the neck gently away from you whilst guiding the cheek towards you. You will be able to feel the stretch, never ask for too much and don’t use force. You are aiming for your horse to hold the stretch for 20 seconds and ideally to repeat the exercise two or three times on both sides. Build up slowly until your horse has got the hang of it.

 tension in the polltension in the polltension in the poll


When to do this exercise to help reduce tension in the poll:

They can be done at any point and as often as you feel necessary. Some horses may benefit from the stretch before and after training/ridden sessions. Some horses once a day, some horses morning and evening. There’s no set routine but, the more stretching you do, the better the body recovers from any form of exercise and training.

If your horse has a prior diagnosed condition with the poll area, we recommend you consult your Vet or Equine Physio before trying out these exercises.


For more exercises and dressage inspiration, check out Jessica's Facebook page