I have a five year old mare that is goofy about going down steep hills. At first she was just a little antsy when we first started down, but it's getting worse. Our trails have some very steep hills with small loose rocks on them. For several months now, she has been tossing her head most of the way down the hill and keeps trying to break into a trot. I always lean back as far as possible going down hill. I've tried zigzagging. She is shod, and I've talked to my farrier and vet, neither can find anything wrong with her. She has also started tossing her head whenever she trots or canters, even on the flat. I have always used a Dr. Cook's bitless bridle, and like I said, these problems just cropped up a few months ago. Any ideas as to what might cause this, or how I can stop it?
My horse loves to go faster down hills. I guess it is the gravity. It can create a problem because footing is an issue on some of our trails. She argued with me to start with. She finally tripped and almost fell and now she is doing better. I have never had much luck with bitless bridles. I got head tossing when I used them on my former horse. He did much better with a low port curb. My horse now does ok in either a snaffle or a low port curb.
Head tossing is most often caused by a discomfort in the mouth or face. I understand you are probably trying to hold her in at a walk but I would make sure you are aware of your hands when you are trotting or cantering. A change in head gear may help. It's worth a try atleast. Start with maybe a halter or even a snaffle.
One thing that worked well for my mare was riding with a buddy and making her go behind that horse. This way she had to go slow because there were horses in front of her.
Typically head tossing is due to discomfort and the trick is figuring out what is casuing that discomfort. Since it is happening more and more in different situations it's probably what causes both my boys to toss their heads. They absolutely hate their foretop wrapping around their ears as we ride. To prevent it from happening we toss in a braid before mounting or tuck it into their bridle.
Since you mention it just started over the last couple months, it could also be from bugs as that's when the season started for most of us. Use some sort of bug wipe around your horses face and don't forget to get some inside her ears as a lot of gnats like to go there.
I've also seen a few horses toss their heads like that when being irritated in a different area so don't fully concentrate on her head area. I'm thinking specifically of a mare my mom owned who couldn't stand being bit on her belly by flies. In the pasture she would kick and bite at them but when being rode she couldn't so tossed her head in frustration.
I second saddle fit. Traveling downhill the saddle might be shifting forward and interfering with shoulders. Pain or even discomfort will cause lots of issues that we can mistake for "being a brat" when we should really be listening to them. It also coud be that leaning "way" back might be driving the cantle of the saddle into the loins causing her to be rushing.
It sounds like a discomfort thing if you ask me. Either some type of changes in the fore such as navicular or ringbone that are so minute that the vet can't really detect them or maybe something more.
The gradually worsening head tossing on the flat sounds like whatever it is, it's gradually getting worse. You may have to dissect the problem. Do your horse's stools look normal? Is he eating or has he been slowly eating less feed? Is his coat getting a dull look to it? Is there a slight temperament change? Is there maybe a problem picking up correct leads? Is he fine at a walk but then starts head tossing at a trot or canter? Is he more sensitive in the flanks lately?
If you can answer yes to some of these, you may want to consider ulcers. It's one of the most misdiagnosed problem in horses, or commonly not considered. I only mention it because some of your horse's behaviors sounds like when Cinny first started having problems.... and they gradually got worse and worse to the point that people thought my horse needed to go back to a trainer because of his behavior. It is something completely fixable and worth asking your vet about.
We have a mare that often does this on the flat at the trot as you say yours does as well as going downhills though I can't say she is any worse doing that or that she tries to rush down them. She gets irritated by her mane or forelock touching her ears and is funny about having her ears handled so we got them checked out under sedation but nothing wrong but tying them away from her ears does help a lot We have changed her into a bitless to see if that made a difference but can't see that it does, she checks out fine with the vet and is perfectly healthy, we've had her 7 years now and still a mystery why she does it. She improves with regular work to the point of not doing it at all which is why we weren't aware of the problem when we bought her as it only surfaced after she had time off the first winter. She can also be very slightly cold backed after she has a break from work but nothing scarey. I'll be interested to read all opinions and ideas on this thread