I agree with saddle fit, chiro, and really working on the soft tissue. A horse can have a foreleg-dominance issue, where that foreleg -- the entire limb column -- has gotten sore, either from overuse or from an injury and then compensation by surrounding soft tissue.
Either way, these can cause the entire limb to get tight and bothered, from hoof to wither to up the neck to the poll. I've gotten results from working consistently on the muscles in that entire area (lotta work, but worth it).
That he works out of it would suggest that the soft tissue has warmed up. Or, that he's in the early stages of navicular . Is this a front leg?
It is very unlikely, especially if it is consistent (and always done under saddle the one direction). I'd investigate footsoreness, saddle/back, and do some progressive blocks up the leg to see if it goes away/if you can isolate a source.
I did have a supersmart horse once who was fine in the field until he saw you were going to approach him and then started head bobbing. But that wily old fellow turned it off and on -- much different scenario.
Our old navicular horse will warm up out of it his small lameness when tested. My ringbone horse would as well. I wouldn't assume that means all is well.
A head bob = lameness. Just because the local vets can't figure it out does not mean it isn't there. I would either get him to a big clinic where they can find the answer, or turn the horse out with no riding for six months and reevaluate then. But I would not continue to ride a horse with a head bob no matter how willing they may seem. Some horses are just too sweet to say no even though they are in pain.
One of my horses head bobs when he comes to the gate in his paddock. You call him over, and he walks (sound), and bobs his head up and down until he reaches the gate. He never shows any signs under saddle, or handwalking or jogging. He has also been jumping the 3` and 3`6 hunters at A rated shows, jogs sound for ribbons.
For him, its a habit - so no...not all head bobbing horses are lame. However, if its just under saddle I would think some type of rein-lameness or something high up.
I agree with those saying the horse is not 100% sound if has head bob. There are plenty of reasons why a horse might be sore on one rein and not the other,
sore on a circle lungeing and not off the circle, and works out of it. Vet has not found the reason but that's not an answer. As others mentioned, would investigate foot issues, muscle soreness or arthritic changes which horse works out of.
Interesting thread. I have a similar head bobbing issue with a horse that just arrived at my barn. So far he has had 2 chiro sessions and is getting better, chiro says wait 10 days and re-evaluate.
I also believe that if there is head bobbing involved, that shows a lameness. Although chiro indicated that he did not believe the horse was in pain based on pulse/respiration comparisons before and immediately after work, I feel there must be AT LEAST discomfort, otherwise there would be no headbob. Right?
Previous owners rode and JUMPED this horse, saying "it doesn't show at the canter". I told new owner it doesn't matter if you can't see it, it is still THERE.
Short history, older event horse who had been turned out to pasture for many years because owner no longer rode. Sold on to a rider who rode maybe once every 2 weeks if that for 5 years, then moved to a hunter barn as a lesson horse. Unfortunately I don't know what his work schedule was, but I suspect he was not conditioned properly before beginning regular work. Luckily this only went on for 7 months, hopefully the horse is not ruined since he has shown rapid progress with chiro sessions.
Sounds chiropractic or muscle to me as well. One of my horses was bridle lame and it turned out it was his neck and sacro area.
I have a pop noise in my jaw and it is a muscle spasm. The reason I bring this up is because there are so many things this can be. Muscles can do some strange things to us, tendons, bone - etc.... I agree that you need to keep looking. Good luck - it sounds like you are trying to figure this out and I sure hope you can solve it with good results!
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I had one that did this. We never really did figure it out. It wasn't in time with his footfalls the way a normal leg lameness would be, blocking didn't change it, chiro (multiple highly recommended) found nothing and made no change, saddle fit was checked, X-rays, MRI, ultrasound etc etc etc. major vet clinic found nothing. Negative for EPM never tested for Lyme as it wasn't a well know issue then also never tested for ulcers but that was before ulcer guard.
The only other obvious issue was a mild case of string halt. He was a very leggy, long bodied, 18h TB, with a really long back and long neck. Very flexible too - could easily scratch behind his ear with his back leg on either side and any carrot stretches were stupidly easy for him.
He did it both ways when trotting in a nice rhythm both under saddle and when lunged.
We eventually made the assumption that it was likely neurological (or just an odd habit). I retired him early due to an unrelated accidental injury so never pursued the issue further. He was kind of a strange horse, very very smart but odd.
I'd be inclined to agree that a head bob, particularly one that seems to go away after the horse is warmed up, is an indication of some physical problem. A video might be useful. You might also try a couple of other things:
Is the head bobbing the same on all surfaces? What happens if you trot the horse, for example, on a hard surface like a blacktop?
Is the head bobbing better, worse or the same if you work the horse in a small circle?
Does the horse track up equally with either hind leg at the trot? Is the trot even, other than the head bob?
If you have the horse trotting on the lunge, can you close your eyes and hear the horse trot evenly or unevenly?
Will the horse walk downhill in a straight line in a forward way (i.e., not picking his way down or doing baby steps)?
If you look at the horse's back from above (standing on a stool for example), does one shoulder seem to be more developed than the other?
When you had the PPE done, did the vet take any x-rays? Or did the vet just do flexions?
"The formula 'Two and two make five' is not without its attractions." --Dostoevsky
I have a horse that does this when he is feeling especially lazy (read: Often). If I really get him moving out in front of my leg, it goes away. I had tons of vet work done on him at first, including x-rays, ultrasounds, injections, chiro, acupuncture, etc, but it never went away. Vets finally concluded he was just being lazy and doing a half-hearted attempt to canter as it's easier to lope along than it is to use his hiney. We call it his tranter hop
Edited to add: he only ever did it under saddle, with a rider up. I'd get on, he'd head-bob, i'd get off and lunge, see nothing, get back on, repeat. never did it in the field, never did it on the lunge, never did it at a horse show.
My horse had a tendency to do this in one direction.
As others have said, there is pretty much always a reason. In his case he had taken a very bad fall in turnout which misaligned his SI area but also affected his muscles in his right hind, which was already his weaker hind leg. He didn't give an indication of pain, but of weakness in that leg - after the SI area was resolved. Ultimately it was an evasion due to the weakness in that leg, but while asking him to move evenly and not head bob there was a lot of massage and checking to ensure that muscularly he was not hurting.
Good for you to be trying to figure it out, because something's up... but it need not be some dire life-threatening something to be worth figuring out.
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