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How to Correct a ‘Poking Nose’

How to Correct a 'Poking Nose' how to dressage

You may have seen the judge’s comment, “poking nose” on your dressage score sheet.

What does this term mean and how can you go about correcting the fault?

Read on to find out more.

What does “poking nose” mean on your score sheet?

The term, “poking nose” is generally used by the dressage judge to refer to the observation that the horse is above the bit.

Other commonly-used terms to describe the same thing include, “outline could be rounder”, “hollowing”, “head high”, and “could be softer in the contact”.

The dressage judge is looking to see that the horse is working in a round outline, swinging through his back to seek an elastic contact, and carrying himself with his face on, or slightly in front of the vertical.

Why does your horse poke his nose?

There are a number of potential reasons for this issue, and your first challenge is to identify the cause in your individual horse’s case.

The fit and/or comfort of the bit

Horses are all individuals, and as such, the interior of their mouths are all shaped slightly differently.

Therefore what suits one horse in terms of thickness and shape of mouthpiece, will not necessarily suit another.

If you’re having problems with your horse accepting the contact, it is well-worth asking someone knowledgeable to check the fit of your horse’s bit.


Regular dentistry is necessary for your horse’s oral comfort and health.

The grinding action of eating can wear the teeth unevenly and cause sharp edges or angled surfaces that interfere with the action of the bit.

Sharp teeth can cause injury to the tongue and inside of your horse’s cheeks, causing him discomfort when you take up a contact on the reins.

Your horse should have his teeth checked once every six to nine months, and as soon as possible if he is showing resistance to the contact.

Lack of, and/or incorrectly developed musculature

A horse with insufficiently developed topline muscles will find it hard to hold a round outline for any length of time.

A horse that is poking his nose is not flexing at the poll, allowing him to avoid using his postural muscles.

It’s a good idea to have your horse’s back checked by a chiropractor to make sure that he is not carrying an injury to the structures along his topline that could be making him resistant to working in a round outline.

Remember that young immature horses, or those starting to learn a new discipline, will find it hard to work in an outline for long periods of time, so be sure to include plenty of long-rein stretching exercises during your schooling sessions, and don’t expect too much too soon.

Rider’s contact

The quality of the rider’s contact is extremely important.

The horse should confidently seek the contact, and the rider should offer it to him.

If the contact offered to a horse is too strong, is uneven, or is unsteady, he may push out against the bridle in an attempt to relieve the pressure on his mouth.


Resistance is the last possibility to consider.  In general, horses are obliging if all the issues above are discounted or resolved.

Resistance may occur as a result of a historical situation where the horse has become conditioned to expect a rough contact or other unpleasant experience associated with being schooled.

In this case, you’ll have to go back to basics to regain the horse’s confidence, before you can expect him to work into a contact.

How to teach your horse to work into a contact

First, you must teach your horse to understand how to yield to your contact.  This involves him chewing the bit softly and flexing at the poll, both longitudinally and laterally.

The simplest place to teach this is on a circle.  Ask the horse to flex at his poll and soften into a round outline by taking a soft contact on the inside and (temporarily) yielding forward your outside hand.

When the horse accepts the inside bend and lowers his head, you can re-establish the outside rein contact.

Make sure you ride your horse forwards into the contact; never pull back and try to force him into an outline.

A forced “shape” will simply cause the horse to hollow his back, trail his hocks and become unbalanced.

This sort of artificial frame is often seen in dressage tests at the lower levels and will be heavily penalized by the judge.

In conclusion

There are many reasons why your horse might start to “poke his nose”.

It’s important that you eliminate all of the aforementioned physical problems before you begin to approach the issue from a training angle.

When asking your horse to soften and yield to the contact, remember to ride him forwards.  Always offer your horse the rein, never take it from him.

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