Has your horse recently started throwing their head up? When horses throw their head it can be a sign of several things. You should observe your horse to see if they keep throwing their head up with the bit off, or if he keeps throwing his head up when alone in this pasture or stall. The latter type of head throwing up can be neurological or even allergy based and you should stop riding immediately and call your vet.
If your horse is only throwing their head up when the bit is on, there is a good chance the bit, or other element of his tack, is uncomfortable or painful. Head throwing can be related to an improperly fitting saddle, so you’ll want to have your saddle fitted or try riding bareback or with a different saddle. Usually, however, horses that keep throwing their head up with a bit on are irritated by a bit that does not fit the horse’s mouth, or a bit that is being used improperly.
One of the biggest causes of a horse throwing his head up is the Tom Thumb bit! Innocuously marketed as a mild snaffle-type western bit, the tom thumb is actually anything but mild. When reins attached to a Tom Thumb are pulled, the bit is wrapped around the horse’s jaw like a nutcracker and the joint of the mouthpiece is driven into the roof of the mouth! Sensitive horses can panic and rear when bitted with this bit, but most horses react to the pain of the bit by throwing their head up. If you’re using this bit, it’s time to try something else and relegate the Tom Thumb to tack room decor.
If you turn your horse by squeezing a rein in the direction you want to go, try a a plain snaffle like the ones shown here. If your horse turns off cues from your legs and a rein laid against their neck, one of these plain curbs might suit your horse best.
Finally, if a your horse keeps throwing his head up after a change in bits, consider whether it might be your hands making the horse uncomfortable. One way to test this is to have an experienced friend or a professional trainer ride your horse for a few minutes. If your horse keeps throwing his head up with another rider, you’ll know the horse not is reacting to discomfort caused by the way you hold your reins. Read our article on how to direct rein to learn a gentler way of direct reining.
If none of these suggestions seem to help your horse that keeps throwing his head up, consider whether his teeth may need floated. Horses need regular dental care (called "floating") in order for the bit to fit safely and comfortably in their mouth. Without proper dental care your horses problems throwing their head may keep becoming increasingly worse, as the pain increases, till the horse is unrideable. Equine dentists regularly float teeth, but most equine vets float teeth as well.
So if you are having a problem with your horse throwing his head up, try these steps:
1. Observe horse untacked at liberty to see if head throwing is related to tack
2. Check saddle fit
3. Consider the type of bit
4. Consider the way you use your reins
5. Have horse’s teeth examined
A horse throwing his head up is an annoying and dangerous habit. If you follow these steps you will find and eliminate the cause of your horses head throwing and make your riding time much more pleasant.