Why Do Horses Bob Their Heads? Does It Influence Their Performance?

Jan 03, 2024 | Super Equestrian


Why Do Horses Bob Their Heads

Have you ever observed your horse's rhythmic head movements and thought ” What's going on?” Probably in the last month, I took my horse to a pasture for grazing. Suddenly I noticed my horse was bobbing its head up and down. 

I was getting scared and calling my friend who is an equestrian expert. He told me to check whether it was being bothered by any insects or got injured. While checking I found a ladybug walking above its back. Then I realized the reason! My horse is getting irritated due to this tiny creature…

Just a few days back, I went for a trail ride with my horse. There, me and my neighbor started a riding contest. While riding I found my neighbor’s horse walking in a rhythmic motion and bobbing its head. Then I asked my neighbor why it was bobbing its head continuously.

He said this bobbing helps this type of horse maintain balance while riding. But it's not true for all kinds of horses. This bobbing may also be due to any physical discomfort, showing excitement, or responding to anything. There are some more surprising facts as well. 

So, what are the reasons behind this unique behavior? Is it okay to consider this kind of behavior lightly? Or this may influence your horse's performance? 

What impact does your horse's physical state have on its head movements?

What impact does your horse's physical state have on its head movements

Different kinds of health issues and physical abnormalities cause the horse to shake their heads. They try to express their thoughts and feelings by using this process. 

Poorly adjusted tack or equipment

When the saddle does not fit properly to the horse's back, it feels pain or discomfort in that particular area. The saddle might become too tight or too loose.Tightly fitted saddles induce additional pressure during riding. 

Dental problems

Different types of dental issues are common in horses such as toothache (tooth pain due to gum infection or dental decay), pain in the broken teeth, and mouth blisters due to viral or bacterial infection. Similarly, oral ulcers in the mouth and tongue area due to digestive problems or poor dental care cause severe pain. 

Pain or discomfort in other body parts

Pain or discomfort in the eyes, head, neck, ear, and some other areas of the body may occur due to injury or infection. When abscess (collection of pus) buildup occurs in their hoof because of bacterial or fungal infection, they feel severe pain and irritation. 

Besides that, bone stiffness, burning, or swelling in the legs occurs due to inflammation. As a consequence, they try to get relief from the pain by shaking their heads. 

Breathing difficulties 

Allergic reactions may occur due to food, dust, grass, or other triggering factors, which ultimately cause itching, sneezing, skin disease, and respiratory problems in horses.  And these can also lead to head bobbing.

Head shaking syndrome: Trigeminal Neuralgia

This abnormal condition may occur in any kind of horse, but it is more common in warm-blooded, middle-aged geldings and some thoroughbreds. It appears suddenly without any special reasons and disappears again in the autumn or winter season. 

How do behavioral issues and mental well-being of your horse relate to their head bobbing?

How do behavioral issues and mental well-being of your horse relate to their head bobbing

This unique behavior can help you understand its mental condition and behavioral characteristics. So, what does it express about its overall behavior and mental well-being through this head bobbing?

Responding to the owner's cue

When the owner tries to communicate with the horse and asks something to respond, then the horse bobs its head. 

Lack of proper training  

Insufficient training and exercise reduce the circulation of blood to their organs. As a consequence, the functional capability of various organs and muscles becomes reduced. They suffer from muscle stiffness and start bobbing their heads. 

Communicating with other horses

Horses interact with other large groups of horses through head bobbing and create effective, non-verbal communication in the herd.

Showing happiness 

When their owner comes to feed them, they become excited and shake their heads to show their enthusiasm. They express their enjoyment during riding by bobbing their heads. This way they maintain balance. Head bobbing is more common in the case of gaited horses such as Tennessee walking horses, which is a part of their normal movements.

Nervousness, anxiety, or boredom

When they become stressed or feel bored a hormone called endorphin is released from their brain and they start bobbing their heads to deal with their mental condition.

Seeking attention 

Horses love to get treats. Sometimes you have to give them their favourite treats as a reward for their positive response to your instructions. After completing their task, they bob their heads to seek your attention, so that you give them treats. 

When eating crunchy foods, they find it difficult to chew them. Then they start shaking their heads indicating that they are asking for help to grind that food. 

What riding and training considerations impact head movement in horses?

You have to be very careful in the case of certain riding aspects, which cause continuous head bobbing. 

What riding and training considerations impact head movement in horses

Incorrect handling of bits and poorly fitted bridle

When the bit is not properly fitted with the horse's teeth or if it is too sturdy, it may cause injury and pain to the mouth area of the horse. Again, the wrong-sized bridle creates pressure on the delicate facial nerves of horses. As a result, severe lesions and nerve damage may occur in the facial muscles, which ultimately causes them to shake their heads. 

Inexperienced riders

If the riders are not trained properly they can not handle the rein when riding. They may pull the rein aggressively, which causes excess pressure on the horse's mouth area, head, ears, and facial nerves. 

Is it necessary to resolve this head-bobbing issue?

Is it necessary to resolve this head-bobbing issue

Actually, it depends on the root cause behind the appearance of this head bobbing. Sometimes, it may help you to communicate with your equine friends via understanding their needs and feelings. In that case, they stop bobbing their heads immediately after you complete the needs of your horse. If it occurs without any special reason or due to any kind of injury or illness, you must take special care by following some steps. 

Ensuring regular checkups of overall health

You should regularly check your horse's body parts to look for any hidden injuries or lesions. If you find any lesions, go for immediate management.

Emphasizing proper horse care

Emphasizing complete horse care will help your horse to lead a healthy and balanced life. So, you should ensure a correct feeding schedule with the proper quantity of nutritious foods. Plus groom your horse properly to improve its health and muscle strength. 

Ensuring correct sized horse tack

If you want to have a comfortable ride with your equine partner, make sure to purchase the necessary tack or equipment that fits perfectly with your horse's body parts. When the saddle, nosebands, bridle and other headgears are fitted correctly, horses will not bob their heads due to using tight fitted or harsh textured tack. 

Assuring optimal training and exercise 

You can keep your horse fit by providing a thorough training regimen and regular exercise. It will promote muscle flexibility. Plus it allows horses to engage in more physical activity without experiencing tiredness. If the reason for head bobbing is due to lack of sufficient training, it will resolve gradually.

Seeking professional guidance

If you can not identify the actual cause of this head bobbing of your horse, consult with an equestrian specialist

Consulting with a veterinarian 

A reputable and well-known veterinarian can help by providing immediate treatment if any physical injury is responsible for the head shaking. 

Does the head bobbing pose a threat or benefit to your horse's performance?

You can understand a lot about your horse's physical and mental condition by observing the head bobbing behavior of your horse. This unique behavior may positively and negatively impact your horse's performance. 

So, it's crucial to understand the reasons why your horse is shaking its head…

In our small discussion, we have tried to draw a clear picture to make you understand the possible reasons for a horse's head bobbing. If your horse aligns with any of the reasons we have pointed out, drop a comment. 

You can share our discussion with anyone you know, who is struggling to find out the reasons why their horses move heads. 

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