Head tossing

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Head tossing

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  • Reasons horses toss their heads in a snaffle
  • Horse tosses head on trail

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    09-10-2010, 10:42 PM
Head tossing

I've had my mare (5 yo Paint) for right around a month now. When I first got her, we started with a snaffle bit and I was riding her English (she had been trained Western, but I hadn't invested in a Western Saddle yet). Anyhow, she seemed fine with the saddle, but was driving me crazy with the bit - she kept getting her tongue above it, etc. Even though she had that annoying habit, she was doing really well with all the basics - bending, figure eights, transitioning from walk to trot, etc.

Someone suggested that I switch to a Tom Thumb w/ a roller to help with the bit issue - so I invested in one. That same weekend (yes, I realize this was a huge mistake now) I also borrowed a friend's saddle to try out on her (they were offering to sell it to me, so I took it on a trial basis). Right away the first time she was tacked up in the new saddle and bit, she was refusing to cooperate with me. She did not want to walk on (was basically refusing to move, period). After maybe 15-20 min, she improved a small amount - and I wanted to end on a good note, so I left it at that. The next day, I tacked her up again and she was easier to get moving, but would not trot in the ring. We decided to go on a small trail ride (about an hour) when I noticed her starting to toss her head. At first it wasn't anything major - I honestly thought it was because of flies bothering her. By the end of the ride it was to the point where it felt like she was trying to hit me with her head to get me off her back (it was inches from my face). We'd go 10 feet and then she'd stop and toss her head, (etc).

I figured at this point, that the saddle must have been fitting her incorrectly, and that she had some minor back soreness (in total that saddle was on her 2 hours tops). I gave her a few days off, and tried yet another saddle (synthetic Western). She had improved in one sense - and was cooperating when I asked for a trot or for her to canter - but will not stop with the head tossing. So I figured maybe it was the bit. Went out and bought another snaffle b/c I read online that a full cheek snaffle is the best bet with a horse who tosses their head.

She's been ridden 2x now in the new bit and I'm at a loss for what to do b/c she's still head tossing. It is not as severe as it was last week (though I haven't taken her back out on the trails), but it's a major annoyance and is extremely distracting. When she has a bit in her mouth she seems to constantly try to resist it and fight it - I don't know how else to describe it.

On the ground we've made so much progress - she went from being completely pushy and having no manners to being a pleasure to be around, she comes when I call her name, doesn't give any issue when being caught/haltered, walks gently on a lead, stands politely to be groomed, etc. I wish I felt the same when I was on her back. I'm wondering if part of it is her sensing my nervous energy because everytime I get on her now, I am anticipating her acting up. I've spent the last week trying to look up options online for how to correct this before it turns into something I can't easily fix. Any suggestions? Thank you!
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    09-10-2010, 10:47 PM
How are her teeth? Any sharp edges in there that might be causing her pain?
    09-10-2010, 10:59 PM
Yup check the teeth.
    09-10-2010, 11:03 PM
Green Broke
I agree, I would start with a dental check up. When she eats does she have trouble keeping the hay in her mouth? That would be another sign that it could be dental.

The head tossing can be many other things from bad saddle fit to a stone bruise....or a bad bit. I would go over your horse with a "fine tooth comb" so to speak. When you groom, try moving your hand over her in a slight massaging motion and pay attention to her head or skin. Does any place make her suddenly raise her head or seemingly tighten her muscles or skin, it could be a sore spot. Sore spots in the poll, neck and chest can be related to avoiding the bit a lot of times wheras sore spots on the shoulders, withers, back could be saddle. Look along spine in good light, are there any areas that look slightly raised anywhere on her back, it could be a point where the saddle is hitting wrong (my recent experience with Cinny and a bad saddle). Next time you pick her hooves pay attention to her feet, push down on the frog, etc...are there any soft spots that could be a stone bruise? Feel down her legs after her ride, does any place feel a little warmer than others, or are there squishy or puffy areas in comparison with the other leg?

When you say she puts her tongue over the bit it also concerns me that the bit may not be the correct size, or you may not have the bridle adjusted correctly. In my experience if a bit and bridle are correctly fitting the horse, they can't put their tongue over it.

Regardless, I would rule out everything before assuming it is merely behavioral or the wrong bit. And please don't use that tom thumb again, yick.
    09-11-2010, 12:02 AM
One other thing to consider, how tight do you keep the reins? Most western trained horses are ridden on very loose reins and if they are suddenly ridden by someone who keeps contact all the time (i/e, going from western to english), it can cause head tossing.
    09-11-2010, 12:10 AM
Green Broke
I agree with smrobs....she could be used to very little to no contact on the reins. (I borrowed a mare to ride in the hunt field who didnt like any contact and she was fine with loose reins, but as soon as you tightened up, she would start to toss her head.....)
    09-11-2010, 07:31 AM
Originally Posted by smrobs    
One other thing to consider, how tight do you keep the reins? Most western trained horses are ridden on very loose reins and if they are suddenly ridden by someone who keeps contact all the time (i/e, going from western to english), it can cause head tossing.
I agree with this also. All our mares have always been ridden western with a snaffle on a loose rein and will toss their heads if someone gets in their mouth, especially if they have hard hands. A couple years ago a lady was riding our seasoned, penner lead mare and she was so tight in her mouth that our mare was constantly tossing her head. Even though she was an experienced rider, I stopped her and explained the problem....she wound up walking away in a huff calling our mare a bad horse.
    09-11-2010, 08:36 AM
^^ You-exactly what happened to my guy. He was fine unless you touched his mouth. So, when he started training, when he started the head tossing my trainer planted his hands behind the cantle so that the horse could not move them and held them there until he flexed and "gave" like we wanted. When he did, the pressure was released immediately. We used a full cheek on him, workeed beautifully, and he no longer tosses his head at all!
Good luck!

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