Last Updated on August 21, 2023 by Allison Price
With the help of Steve Stevens, a clinician, you can stop head-tossing at home and on the trail.
Q He fusses about the bit when I take him outside for a trail ride or even a short one. Although I have tried to stop him from pointing his head at me, he will not let go. What is he doing wrong? It is difficult to enjoy the rides outside of the arena because of his behavior.
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[READ ABOUT: Horse Head Shaking]
Taylor Jones, Mississippi
A Before you address behavioral causes of head-tossing I recommend that your horse be examined for any physical problems, including any teeth or other issues that may cause discomfort in his mouth.
Once physical problems have been ruled out, it is possible to focus on the horse’s behavior. Horses often throw their heads in frustration. Although he wants to move forward, his rider keeps a firm grip on him. It is rare to see a horse with a loose rein. Although he might run, he isn’t flipping his head up or down. Head-tossing can be caused by riders.
You give your horse something to fight against by pulling on him with both of your hands. Help your horse get through his frustrations and learn to soften your hands so that he doesn’t pull at his mouth.
This article will outline the four steps I use to eliminate this behavior and explain why. Begin by working in a small area, such as an arena or a round pen. You shouldn’t attempt to solve the problem in an area with additional stress, like on the trail. Once you have mastered the technique in a controlled space, don’t go back to the trail. This drill should be practiced often and not only when your horse is twirling his head. Start the drill at a stop, and then move to a walk when he does.
Keep your patience up. The most difficult part of this process, however, is to not lose your cool while your horse learns.
Step 1 Standstill
Start by standing still with your horse. Take the slack off your reins to allow your horse to have a soft touch on his mouth. Your hands should not be extended in front of the saddle’s horn. If you move your wrists downwards, there will be slight contact with his corners.
1. Start at a standstill and take the reins off.
To make contact, rotate your wrists down and hold the position until your horse breaks at your poll. Keep your horse in that position and not pull. Holding allows your horse respond to you. Pulling gives your horse something to hold onto. Keep that position until your horse comes to you at the poll. When your horse gives, let go of the tension and return to your starting position.
Reiterate this request. Give him immediate relief whenever he lowers his head. He will learn to “hunt” for the release. Continue to ask until your horse relents when you put too much pressure on him. This can be repeated whenever your horse becomes anxious or nervous. It will remind your horse to relax, give at his poll, and wait for the release.
Step 2 During a Walk
This will make it more difficult for both you and your horse. Moving your horse forward at a slow pace, keeping light contact with his lips and the bit at the corners of his mouth. This is the same as the position that he was in at the standstill. You can ask your horse to give a poll in the same way as Step 1. However, you can also use leg pressure to push him forward. Once your horse has given you his face, let go of your legs and hands. After your horse has given you one beat, ask him for two more before releasing. As long as you keep asking, he will learn to give and hold.
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2. Rotating your wrists down will cause the bit to contact the corners of the horse’s mouth. As shown in the image, you should hold this position until your horse’s head falls or “breaks at his poll”.
Release the pressure immediately before your horse begins to fight it. The process relies on your horse’s natural collection skills, making contact with his face and moving him forward using your legs. Before you attempt it on a more stressful situation, such as out on the trails, get comfortable with the walk, jog and lope. You won’t be in control of your horse if he throws his head into the arena.
You can also find additional training resources like Horse&Rider Magazine subscription, Horse Speak: Horse-Human Translation Guide, 101 Ground Training Exercises or Connection Training.
Step 3 On The Trail
Try it outside the arena if you feel confident asking your horse to show his face in a controlled environment. You can set your horse and yourself up for success by notifying your riding buddies that you will be training your horse if your horse starts to stomp his head. You won’t leave your horse alone and stressed, and they won’t be riding off into the distance.
3. Do not apply firm pulling pressure to both hands simultaneously. This gives your horse more to do than tossing his head.
Start in the pasture, which is a low-anxiety setting. Then work on the drill there and then move to the trail. Begin by putting your horse down at a halt and working your way through his gaits. You should then be ready to go if your horse jerks his head.
Step 4 Stop the Fight Before it Starts
You shouldn’t let your horse get in a fight with you if he is twirling his head on the trail. Your cause won’t be helped if you grab the bit tightly. Bruce Lee stated that the best way to avoid being hit in a fight was to not be present when someone throws a punch. This is also true in this instance.
4. If your horse resists your gentle pressure, you can work with him in small circles and change directions. Ask him to be open to both sides. After he responds to these cues, you can ask him again to show his face at a halt.
If your horse doesn’t respond to your gentle, two-rein pull to lower him head, ask him to let go of one rein. You can use one rein to direct your horse’s energy in the one direction, and then switch to the other. He will be unable to move his head if his feet aren’t busy.