Setting goals and making plans can feel like a waste of time when your horse is continuously tossing or throwing his head about. If you have a horse who reacts this way when being ridden, you will agree with me. It seems that no matter what you do, this issue is going to taint everything else in your riding. And it will.
Horse riding is about the conversation between horse and rider. A big part of that conversation is the contact and the connection. Tossing or throwing of the head makes consistency in both of these things pretty impossible.
I do want to preface this by stating the obvious. If you are struggling with this issue, get your horse checked first and foremost by a vet. Rule out any health issues or other issues that may be leading to this behavior. I am also going to strongly suggest having a chiropractor, dentist and qualified saddler come out and assess or work with your horse.
With head tossing or throwing, the details are important. Rule out every possible outside interference first. From there, you can begin to work on things that you can influence when it comes to changing this behaviour.
Consider Your BIt
I know, I have already said about a saddler. But having a look at the actual bit can sometimes help to clear this problem up from the get-go. As riders, we tend to have a couple of favorites or go to bits. One that we have had success with over the years and we find most horses enjoy being ridden in. However, we often forget the one really important thing
Horses change. What worked for the past 5 years, or 5 weeks, might no longer work that well anymore. As your horse develops, the contact will change. It stands to reason that pmaybe the bit may need to change as well.
It is always important to remember that all horses are unique individuals. What works for one might not work for another. It is easy to assume everything is training related. However, sometimes, the horse is just not comfortable with a particular piece of equipment. All the training in the world won’t change that.
Keep in mind that this may also be the noseband or even the shape or type of bridle. Assess all the equipment regularly and make changes as necessary
Is it a Training Issue…?
A horse who is continuously sticking his nose in the air is going to have developed differently from a horse who engages through its back. Simply put, where the energy goes will decide how the horse physically develops. Hollowness seems to almost always accompany a horse who is tossing or throwing his head about.
Correct training is using specific principles in order to allow the horse to use his body to the best of his natural ability.
A horse who is traveling with his nose in the air is definitely not doing this. Now, whether the training caused the tossing or the tossing caused the incorrect training will depend on each situation. What is important to note is that most horses who are regularly tossing or throwing their heads about will need some form of re-training or re-schooling.
A simple way to imagine this is by thinking of your horse’s back like a stick. His ears are one end of the stick, his tail the other. When you put something really heavy in the middle of the stick, it will break. Now, and this is the important part, look where the ‘ears’ of the stick go when the stick breaks. Up in the air.
The Rider’s Influence
Now, you might be thinking that having his nose in the air and tossing or throwing his head about are two different things. And they are. However, it is the rider’s reaction to the nose in the air that can lead to the horse beginning to toss or throw its head about.
Hollowness occurs when the energy is not connecting through from the back to the front. The energy channel is broken. Correct training can repair or strengthen that channel
And yet, most riders will focus on what they can see. What is right in front of them… Their horse’s nose. A ‘war’ begins. The rider tries to force the horse’s head down. The horse resists, because of the hollowness, and tries to keep its nose up.
The riders focus should be on what is happening underneath them, rather than what they can see in-front of them. The ‘in front’ is usually the result of what is going on both behind and under the rider at any given time.
Re-Training Takes Time…
If your horse has been tossing or throwing his head about for any length of time, his body will have developed in a way that best supports this behavior. For the most part, this is not the ideal way a horse should develop! Particularly if we want to go on and ‘do something’ with the horse where we are asking bigger questions of his abilities.
Muscles take time to develop. Which means that your horses retraining will take time.
I would suggest setting up an initial 12-week or three-month plan to really begin working from the beginning again with your horse. I personally believe that the traditional training scale is a great way of really allowing your horse’s natural abilities to shine while developing him physically and mentally.
I have a step-by-step program HERE that gives riders the exact tools and exercises they need to begin working on this the right way.
Quick fixes are not going to ‘cure’ this particular issue. They are a band-aid, which when pressure is applied, is going to come off. Time, correct training, and consistency are really the only way to re-training or re-school this issue if it does stem from incorrect training. This is also true if some other issue has caused the horse to develop incorrectly.
Head Tossing due to Anxiety
Increased anxiety in the horse often results in head tossing. I find that this often is the result of the rider asking questions that the horse simply cannot answer. Why they can’t answer can be down to either being unable to answer the question. This is often called ‘over-facing’ a horse.
Asking too much too soon. The horse is just not physically, mentally or emotionally able, at that point, to do what is being asked of them.
Anxiety can also come from simply not understanding the question. This can be down to two reasons. Lack of training, in which case, I will again suggest the traditional training scale. Not understanding the question can also be due to the rider not asking correctly. Rider error…
So many horses are tossing or throwing their heads about as a direct result of something a rider is, or isn’t, doing. If you have a horse who is doing this particular behavior, I feel that it is really important to put your riding under the spotlight.
Piano fingers can often be the culprit. Riders who are allowing the reins to get long. And then, realize this and shorten them back up again. Their fingers are in almost constant motion up and down the reins! Piano fingers!
You have a huge influence over your horse. Particular over your horses head seeing as you have a literal direct line to it in your hands.
Another way a rider can be the issue is when they, intentionally or not, are asking the horse to create more energy. But then blocking or holding that energy and not allowing it forward. It can be a driving seat. A tapping or swinging leg. A whip that is literally animated with each stride the horse takes.
Pressure & Release
The final suggestion I am going to make when it comes to working with a horse who is tossing or throwing their head about is to work on refining pressure and release. This is the way we really and truly communicate what we want to our horse. We apply pressure and then, as soon as the horse begins to make a move the way we want him to, we release the pressure. The release is the reward.
Pressure and release is so important when it comes how we train or re-train our horses. It can also help to begin working with a horse who is feeling anxious or who is not responsive to aids.
It is important to realize that this particular challenge will usually require a more long-term approach to correctly retraining the behavior. It will take time. It will take consistency. However, it can most certainly be done.