Equine Behavior Questions and Answers

The Question: What causes a 4 yr old TB to flip his head when being ridden or longed?

The Answer


Many behavioral problems under saddle are caused by pain. So the first thing I would do is rule out pain. First, have a veterinarian who has dental training or an equine dentist come out, look at his teeth, and do any needed work. Sharp teeth may be cutting the inside of his mouth, and the bit and bridle could be rubbing those spots, causing him pain. Long teeth may be hit by the bit while riding, also causing pain. Once he's had the dental work done, give him a few days off to heal and then try longing and riding him. He may flip his head a few times the first ride or two because he's anticipating the pain he used to feel.

If he doesn't stop flipping his head after a few rides, then examine the fit of your tack and equipment. Go over your equipment to make sure it is all clean and nothing is protruding that could cause him pain. Then, examine the fit: does your saddle fit well? Is the bit the right size for your horse and it is properly placed in his mouth? Again, if you have to make some adjustments, you may need to give your horse time to heal and then try riding him several times.

If he's still tossing his head, I would ask a chiropractor or massage therapist to examine your horse's back. He could have sore spots that cause pain when ridden - again leading to head tossing.

Once you have ruled out physical causes, if your horse is still flipping his head, look at training issues. He may be flipping his head up so that he can avoid contract with the bit. Work with a trainer or instructor to see that your hands are steady and not bumping him in the mouth, and work to teach him to take contact with the bit.

I hope this helps!

The Equine Behaviorist

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