Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Head Tossing

Head tossing is not a bad habit designed to make you frustrated nor is it a misbehaviour on the part of the horse; rather it's a manifestation of an underlying problem. Solve the root of the problem and the head tossing disappears.

Causes and what you can do:
- Pinching saddle - have your saddle fitted by a professional saddle fitter!! There are many saddle fitting sites available to you (ie. Saddleworld) as well that can help you determine your saddle's fit, but do not rely solely upon these in lieu of a professional.
- Examine the bit you are using; it could be ill-fitting, pinching, too advanced for you or your horse's level, or just not right for your horse's horsenality
- You! Hard hands, a stiff seat, your body language all could be potential causes to your horse's head tossing
- Horses are prey animals and as such, when they are right-brained/reactive/stressed, they need to move their feet (here's where that fight or flight instinct kicks in). It's part of their nature - when their senses tell them something in the environment is not right (like the predator on its back, the waving grass that could be hiding a crouched lion, etc), mother nature tells them to flee! As predators, when our horse wants to move his feet too much for our liking, we clamp down!! We tense our bodies, clamp our legs around the barrel of our horse and close our hands on our horse's mouth. Our body language clearly conveys to the horse the message that we're nervous, which causes the horse to think: "hey, if the leader on my back is nervous, I'd better get the heck out of here!". In addition, our tendency to clamp down can further compound issues such as poorly fitting tack. When we clamp down, our horse still (perhaps even moreso by this point) desperately feels the need to flee and so if it cannot, it might headtoss as an expression of frustration and in an attempt at regaining control so it may flee. So instead of clamping down, convey to your horse, through a relaxed body posture and loose rein, that you've got the situation under control. If you need to correct with rein, do so by closing your hands, then immediately releasing. Encourage relaxation with exercises such as circles or shoulder-in. In addition, build your horse's trust in your leadership so that she doesn't feel the need to flee. Rather than moving her feet, your horse will be following your lead and be a relaxed partner.
- Environmental factors such as flies, wind, dust, debris, etc. My Quarab is extremely sensitive and at times has had to wear an ear net to keep out flies and wind!

Sometimes it takes the eye of a professional or someone not related to your horse (someone able to take a step back and fully evaluate the situation), or even just someone thinking from another angle, to determine the cause of your horse's head tossing. Solve the root of the problem and the head tossing evaporates!

Do NOT by any means, restrain your horse from head tossing by tying her head down or such. Look at it from the horse's point of view and try to instead solve the root of the problem. The horse is not misbehaving for you but rather is trying to communicate to you a problem; restraining the horse only further aggravates the problem and frustrates the horse because now she no longer has an outlet to express herself. Restraining a horse is a band-aid "solution" that only masks the problem, not cures it, and is not in the best interests of any horse.

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