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Franklin Levinson's

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Head tossing & racing Appy gelding

I have a 13-year-old App gelding who I've owned since he was not quite six. He has been a cow pony and a barrel horse at various times in his life, and more than anything, I use him as a pleasure horse for some serious trail riding. We take a pretty fast pace and he's very enjoyable when he's alone, but here are our issues:


(1) Head tossing. I recently switched from the evils of a Tom Thumb bit to a sweet iron low-port curb bit. This eliminated some of the head tossing because it elminated pinching action, and I've worked hard to lighten my hands. Unfortunately, even if my horse is in a rope halter and I'm riding bareback, I still get the head-tossing in response to any cue to slow down. I have never had bitting problems with him and at an easy gait when he isn't rushing, he's a dream. I refuse to use tie-downs, despite what popular theory around these parts is.

Most often this can be caused by teeth or mouth pain (even back or leg and foot pain). Eliminate that possibility first. Consider an equine chiropractic adjustment as well. If you can eliminate pain as a possible cause, the behavior is habitual. To modify habitual behavior provide a consequence for the unwanted behavior. A great consequence for a horse is movement (work). I suggest trying hind-quarter leg yields the moment he begins to toss his head. He will learn that if he tosses his head he has to work harder. Light hands is a must and if your hands were not that light before and are now, your horse will take time to readjust as it seems to be habituated to the behavior. It is still expecting to be 'hit' with the bit (hands). Old habits are hard to change for us all.

(2) Racing. My riding partners and I like to let our horses out; we ride at a pretty quick clip. I have a lot of time slowing my horse after we gallop for a distance, and when we do stop, it's rough. If he's out on his own or ahead of the other horses, he's not a problem to rein in. If there's a horse in front of him, we have issues.

Again, habitual behavior. Provide the same consequence of leg yields for any behavior you do not want. Also, get in the habit of one rein slow downs and stops. One rein is held not too tight but steady and the other is bumped (not pulled on steadily). Bump, bump, bump to slow and once he is slowed a bit, bump a little bigger to stop. This eliminates pulling on the horse's mouth completely. Pulling on his mouth is at the root of all your problems. Stop that and begin to use one hand bumps with one rein only. You may find just the change in how you ask for slowing and stopping may improve the situation.

Keep me posted...... Sincerest regards, Franklin

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