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Why Do Horses Throw Their Heads Up And Down

Why Do Horses Throw Their Heads Up And Down

When observing horses in various equestrian activities, you may have noticed that some horses have a tendency to throw their heads up and down. This behavior can be puzzling for both experienced riders and those new to the equestrian world. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind why horses exhibit this head movement and delve into the various factors that contribute to this behavior.

The Natural Behavior of Horses

Before we delve into the reasons behind horses throwing their heads up and down, it is important to understand their natural behavior. Horses are prey animals, and their survival instincts drive their behavior. They have a highly developed flight response, which means they are constantly aware of their surroundings and ready to react to potential threats.

One of the ways horses communicate with each other is through body language, including head movements. Horses use their heads to express their emotions, establish dominance, and communicate with other horses. Understanding this natural behavior is crucial in deciphering why horses throw their heads up and down.

Reasons for Head Throwing

There are several reasons why horses may throw their heads up and down. Let’s explore some of the most common causes:

1. Discomfort or Pain

One of the primary reasons horses exhibit head throwing behavior is due to discomfort or pain. Horses may experience discomfort from ill-fitting tack, dental issues, or underlying health problems. When a horse is in pain, they may toss their head as a way to alleviate the discomfort or communicate their distress to their rider.

2. Inexperienced or Rough Riders

Another common cause of head throwing is inexperienced or rough riders. Horses are highly sensitive animals, and they can easily become frustrated or agitated if their rider lacks proper balance or uses excessive force on the reins. In such cases, the horse may throw their head as a way to express their discomfort or resistance to the rider’s aids.

3. Excitement or Anticipation

Horses are naturally energetic animals, and they can become excited or anticipate certain events or activities. This excitement can manifest as head tossing. For example, a horse may throw their head up and down when they are about to start a race or when they see other horses nearby. It is important for riders to manage this excitement and channel it appropriately to prevent any potential accidents or injuries.

4. Behavioral Issues

Some horses develop behavioral issues that result in head tossing. These issues can stem from a lack of training, inconsistent handling, or past traumatic experiences. Horses with behavioral issues may throw their heads as a way to resist or challenge their rider’s commands. Addressing these behavioral issues requires patience, consistent training, and potentially the assistance of a professional trainer.

Case Studies and Statistics

Several case studies and statistics shed light on the prevalence and impact of head tossing behavior in horses. A study conducted by the University of Guelph found that 60% of horses exhibited head tossing behavior during ridden work. The study also revealed that horses with dental issues were more likely to display this behavior.

In another case study conducted by the University of Edinburgh, researchers found that horses with ill-fitting saddles were more prone to head tossing. The study emphasized the importance of proper saddle fit in preventing discomfort and subsequent head tossing behavior.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. Can head tossing be a sign of a serious health issue?

While head tossing can be a symptom of an underlying health problem, it is not always indicative of a serious issue. However, it is essential to consult with a veterinarian to rule out any potential health concerns.

2. How can I determine if my horse is in pain?

Signs of pain in horses can include changes in behavior, decreased appetite, lameness, and sensitivity to touch. If you suspect your horse is in pain, it is crucial to seek veterinary attention for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

3. What can I do to prevent head tossing?

To prevent head tossing, it is important to address any potential discomfort or pain your horse may be experiencing. Regular veterinary check-ups, proper saddle fit, and consistent training can help minimize head tossing behavior.

4. Can head tossing be corrected through training?

Yes, head tossing behavior can often be corrected through proper training techniques. Working with an experienced trainer can help identify the underlying causes of head tossing and develop a training plan to address the issue.

5. Are there any specific riding techniques to manage head tossing?

Using gentle and consistent rein aids, maintaining a balanced seat, and ensuring proper contact with the horse’s mouth can help manage head tossing. It is important to work with a qualified instructor to learn and practice these techniques effectively.

6. Is head tossing more common in certain breeds?

Head tossing behavior can occur in horses of any breed. However, certain breeds may be more prone to certain behaviors due to their conformation or temperament. It is important to consider individual horse characteristics rather than generalizing based on breed.


Head tossing behavior in horses can stem from various factors, including discomfort, inexperienced riders, excitement, and behavioral issues. Understanding the natural behavior of horses and addressing any underlying causes can help manage and minimize head tossing. Regular veterinary care, proper training, and appropriate riding techniques are essential in ensuring the well-being and comfort of horses. By recognizing the reasons behind head tossing, riders can develop a better understanding of their equine partners and work towards a harmonious and successful partnership.