Archives MAIN PAGE

Franklin Levinson's

Horse Help Center

Professional support for you and your horse!

Horse is throwing it's head... Is it 'bull-headedness'?

My horse Max has a little bit of an attitude and he likes to throw his head a little bit and not go where i want him to go when riding western. I dont understand how i can get him to kind of loose that attitude and bullheadedness. I was wondering if u could give me some riding tips on how to kind of stop the head throwing.

Hi Elizabeth,

Most frequently what we humans interpret as bad 'attitude' or stubbornness, 'bullheadedness', balking or behavior other than what we want is not because the horse is trying to be 'bad', willful or disobey us. That type of attitude in a human places blame on the horse and takes the responsibility off the human. As the horse is always innocent, the real responsibility is ours to remedy the situation by helping the horse through whatever pain and/or fear it is having. So, thank you for asking for some assistance. Lets take it one step at a time.

A horse that throws his head is generally trying to get away from some discomfort either from the saddle, bridle and bit or the riders hands, seat or inappropriate use of aids or legs. Likewise a horse balking and not moving forward is, again, not trying to be bad, but rather there is something not right for the horse (confusion and/or discomfort create fear within the horse). Imagine how you would respond to pain of any sort coupled with inappropriate pressure that only increases your discomfort and confusion because your fear responses are not being accurately addressed by the one in charge, who is supposed to be your great leader. It would be helpful if you have access to a round pen or relatively small paddock.

First off, for a horse that is tossing his head, I want to eliminate the bridle. Get a good rope halter with lead and put that on the horse and tie the lead up like reins. Go into the round pen or small paddock and get on your horse. Just ask him to walk around and try not speed him up. If he goes faster than you want, let him w/o pulling on the rope. The enclosure should be small enough so that if he does move out a bit it is no big deal. Start putting a verbal stop on him by saying HO! and lifting the rope a bit when you want him to stop. If he doesn't stop, just let him keep going. Do not muscle him to a stop. He will want to stop on his own soon enough. Let him move around a while and then ask him to stop again with a HO! and a lift of the rope. You'll be happy at how quickly your horse will begin to soften and stop on a verbal command with no head tossing. If he is still tossing his head when you are on him w/o the bridle, in the small enclosure, it is probably because his saddle is pinching him in the withers or somewhere else. This method works to get your horse to stop w/o going to a more severe bit which will only increase his distress and head tossing. You will need to do this procedure for a few weeks. There is no magic bullet or quick fix. Good habits take time to develop with humans as well as with horses. The best way to get your horse to relax and keep his head down is to turn him loose as much as possible. That means lightening up on everything. The tighter you hold the worse the head tossing will be. You need to be able to be on him in a very relaxed way and riding in a halter in a small enclosure will condition him to relax and you too. In time, this will translate to riding on the trail. I teach Bridle-less riding and this is some of the first things we do to get the horse used to being w/o bridle and bit.

As far as his not wanting to go forward, there a quite a few possibilities. Could you please describe in a bit more detail what it looks like when he locks up and doesn't want to go forward? Is it at the same spot all the time? Is it when he is alone mostly or with other horses? Is it at specific times when the behavior happens (just before feeding time or some other specific time of the day)? Does it happen while he is tossing his head around? Has he been warmed up a bit before you begin to ride him? Do you do a bit of ground work to really connect with him before you go riding? Does he spook easily? Is he 'jiggy' and nervous when he begins to balk or just nervous regularly? If you could provide me with a bit more information, I would be happy to offer suggestions that will help.

Thank you for reaching out for assistance. A willingness to help your horse and not just blaim your horse is a big step.

Aloha, Franklin

Look for: