Question of the Week: Head Tossing


Q: I show my horse in western pleasure and equitation. He holds his frame pretty well, but occasionally he tosses his head or jerks his nose forward. He does this in both of my curb bits. His teeth have been checked. Why is he doing this, and how can I get him to stop?

A: Your horse is likely trying to tell you something when he tosses his head. When horses react in this way, it’s most often because of pain or discomfort. You’ll have to do some detective work to find out where that pain or discomfort is coming from.

First, make sure that the curb bit and chin strap are fitted properly. The chin strap should hang in the chin groove and not touch your horse until you pull the shank back. Adjust the bit so it sits in the corners of your horse’s mouth and is not too low or too high. You should be able to see one small wrinkle at the corner of his mouth. The bit shouldn’t be too wide or narrow either. A 5 1/2-inch bit is standard, but larger or smaller horses will need a wider or narrower bit, respectively.

Sometimes curb bits can fit correctly in the mouth but be too narrow where the headstall attaches. Every time the rider pulls the reins, the bit will put pressure on a sensitive area of the horse’s face and irritate him. If this part of the bit is too narrow for your horse, it needs to be widened, or you need to purchase a different bit.

A horse can also react this way to improper saddle fit or pain elsewhere in his body, such as his neck, shoulders or back.

When you use a curb bit on your horse, you’re applying more pressure at his poll, compared to a snaffle. If he is sore in his neck or poll, that pain could be the reason why he tosses his head. If the problem persists, you may need to have a veterinarian or chiropractor examine your horse.

Evaluate how much you use your hand and leg aids as well. Overuse of these aids or giving abrupt cues could cause a reaction.
Hopefully, with a little detective work you can get to the root of the problem and put an end to your horse’s head tossing.
Cathy Hanson has been training horses for 30 years, producing American Quarter Horse Association World Champions and Reserve World Champions in trail and western riding. She is an AQHA Professional Horseman and was named AQHA 2007 Most Valuable Professional.

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  1. one time i wasn’t watich and my horse tossed his head right into my face, sent me to the hospital. i am alot more carefull around them

  2. I’ve also had head tossing problems, but I’ve checked all of those and the saddle is on correctly and fits, and the bit is a standard snaffle and is fitted to the mouth. My mare still tosses her head could it just be that she is in a bad mood?

  3. Ya my horse tosses his head alot with the hackamore…i was thinking it was hurting him somehow because he only does it with a hackamore….it might be to high on his nose…after reading this, i think i know for sure..

  4. my horse used to do this allot. I rode him with a standing martingale as the previous owner said I should. I took the martingale off and problem solved.

  5. My daughters horse how ever tosses her head when we are on outrides, (especialy early in outride) and she does not want to be on a walk or trot but wants to go faster. This tossing must just be to say that she is not happy walking and needs to get rid of some energy. she then takes her on her bit of a run and all tossing is over. frustrations out and gone.


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