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defiant head shaking in a mare

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  • defiant head shaking in a mare

    Hi all, we have a chestnut pony TB cross mare (yep the stereotype) who has a tremendous amount of potential. We have worked with her for about 7 months now and she is really coming along. One last issue however... we are having issues with her shaking her head when she doesn't want to do something.

    She has a very soft mouth, excellent brakes, doesn't grab the bit and go but she does have a motor. When she is being opinionated, she will shake her head and throw it down, thus ripping the reins out of the kids hands. This is mostly a problem on course when she would be asked for a lead change, either simple or flying. She gets easily offended when you take a hold to balance her or bring her back to a simple change, she will start shaking and you've lost the battle before you started. She will do this a bit with an adult but quit immediately because they are better at holding her together from a strength perspective.

    We have tried lots of different bits, from a rubber snaffle, to a loose ring, to a plain snaffle and now she's in a french link. We have not done her teeth and will be getting that done soon. Assuming there is nothing physical with this issue, and it's all mare 'tude, anyone have success curbing this type of behavior? BTW we have also started her on depo.

  • #2
    I remember seeing some kind of strap that run from the saddle dees to the bridle's crownpiece (or something like that) along the crest of the neck in one of my Bit Of Britain catalogs to curb this exact problem.

    I just checked their website and did not find it, but that doesn't mean they don't have it any more.


    • #3
      Originally posted by caballero View Post
      I remember seeing some kind of strap that run from the saddle dees to the bridle's crownpiece (or something like that) along the crest of the neck in one of my Bit Of Britain catalogs to curb this exact problem.

      I just checked their website and did not find it, but that doesn't mean they don't have it any more.
      Sounds like grazing reins?
      a horseless canuck...


      • Original Poster

        hmmm not sure grazing reins will help... it's most the head shaking, not rooting, that is the problem. The rooting is just a part of the end of the head shake I'd think she could still shake side to side in that instance?


        • #5
          I have a TB mare that does this as well. I wouldn't say her mouth is soft, but it is sensitive. As in too much hand can send her backwards. The shaking was very bad at first, mostly in reaction to waiting for a quieter distance, slowing around turns, trying to frame her up, etc. but has gotten progressively better with work. I do the jumpers though, so I can get away with it as long as it isn't unseating me or causing a dangerous distraction in front of the jumps.
          The biggest improvement came after pro rides every day for 2 weeks straight last summer, that gave her a better "work ethic". Not specifically working on the shaking, but getting her over a little of the defiance in general by riding through it and just making her work. Do you have a small adult who can do that for your pony?
          I also used a leverage bit (Happy Mouth American Gag from Dover) for the next 30 days following the training, and now I only use it for jumping. This gave me "brakes" without having to use too much pressure or be heavy-handed all the way around the ring. We also work on using my seat and shoulders to make her wait, rather than hand, which keeps her happier if I can do it.
          And I'm sorry to say, but the last thing is a rather tight standing martingale. I don't mean crazy dangerous tight, for example when she's standing after being tacked, the fit is actually right on with how we were all taught to fit martingales, but it is on the tighter side rather than generous when I get on and ride and her head naturally comes up. But this limits the degree of her shaking.
          Hopefully I don't get flamed for saying that, but seriously, get on and jump this mare yourself then try telling me you want to take the martingale off! Even with improvement, my horse will always be too much work for a kid though, likely most adults, so I hope your pony comes around better!


          • Original Poster

            no flames from me ^^ sounds like a similar behavior. She had been in pro training for about a month and was also better, but has reverted with the kid. Some days she is fine, some horrible, but can't pinpoint anything that will make it better, but a very handsy ride will make it worse.


            • #7
              See if she gets any better after you have her teeth done.

              Points can cause the horse to experience pain with possibly any bit.


              • #8
                The only way fix this is to take the contact back, even it out by raising your hands if you need to keep the line between bit and hand, and booting her forward. It's a basic disobedience to the bit and if she's still doing it then it's effective in some way.


                • #9
                  Originally posted by enjoytheride View Post
                  The only way fix this is to take the contact back, even it out by raising your hands if you need to keep the line between bit and hand, and booting her forward. It's a basic disobedience to the bit and if she's still doing it then it's effective in some way.
                  Agree. Send her fwd.


                  • #10
                    We had a gelding who head shook. After ruling out physical issues we knew it was behavioral. What really worked a tap behind the leg. We asked him to do something, he shook his head, we whacked him, we asked again. If he did it he got a "good boy" and continued like nothing had happened, if he kept head shaking he got another whack. He figured it out very quickly.


                    • Original Poster

                      thanks guys, gonna get her teeth done and maybe try a different bit. She does have poll and TMJ issues so there is still a lingering doubt that it is not pain related. It's clear she's not accepting the bit, and yes she is definitely getting away with her head shaking, it gives her the desired result.

                      Will keep all these suggestions in mind!


                      • #12
                        Once you've ruled out teeth problems, try doing some lunging in side reins that are not tight, but will make her feel the bit if she shakes her head. Also have her give to the bit to one side and then to the other, which will teach her to accept contact. And what Rel6 said.
                        Man plans. God laughs.


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Mayaty02 View Post
                          thanks guys, gonna get her teeth done and maybe try a different bit. She does have poll and TMJ issues so there is still a lingering doubt that it is not pain related. It's clear she's not accepting the bit, and yes she is definitely getting away with her head shaking, it gives her the desired result.

                          Will keep all these suggestions in mind!
                          This was one of my first thoughts when I read your OP. Have you had the TMJ injected? I knew a horse who had to have that done and then ridden in a hackamore for a month because he was anticipating pain (so we think). He got better.

                          Is she locking her jaw during the ride? Sometimes when they lock their jaw long enough it gives them a headache and they start shaking their heads. I think the jaw locking can lead to TMJ/poll issues too.
                          Unrepentant carb eater


                          • #14
                            You said she has TMJ problems. Do you know why or what happened? The reason I bring this up is because TMJ problems are often caused by an unbalanced mouth, meaning teeth. The sharpness of teeth isn't the only reason. If a horse's jaw isn't able to slide back and forth when it moves it's head, it could be because uneven teeth won't allow it to. The jaw literally gets stuck because it can't move any further. This can cause pain, sometimes mistaken for misbehavior. Not making an excuse for your horse, but it's definitely something to have checked. The next challenge is finding an equine dentist or vet who specializes in dentistry and who is familiar with the whole mouth and mechanics, not someone who just spends a minute or two knocking off a couple sharp points. Best of luck.


                            • #15
                              I board a 7yo QH mare that has a similar problem - but only when a small rider is on her. The mare was won in a raffle as an untrained 5yo (straight out of pasture). Gorgeous, well put together horse with a great stride. She is owned by a 6 year old little girl who is VERY small and clearly has not the strength to curb this behavior - and the mare knows it. The mare never exhibits this behavior with anyone other than her little (adorable) owner. And she always stops once she's gone where she wants to - then she'll turn around and go where the little girl wants her to. But it's hard to watch the horse rip the reins through the girls' hands and pull her forward. Kid's been taking lessons from me for almost three years and can walk, trot, canter, and jump most of the other horses here on the farm with no problem. I know the problem is the youngness of the horse and the attitude that she presents - sometimes the horse also has problems turning, and that's with everyone, but it's relatively easily corrected with added leg.

                              I'm going to try running a strap from the d-rings of the saddle down to her bridle so she can't duck her head down to far. Not as a replacement for training, but simply as a way to keep the horse from doing this and possibly pulling her little owner off the horse!! we will continue to work through the remainder of the problem in other training. Horse has already improved immensely in MANY other areas in the 4 months she's been here.
                              Teaching Horseback Riding Lessons: A Practical Training Manual for Instructors

                              Stop Wasting Hay and Extend Consumption Time With Round Bale Hay Nets!!


                              • #16
                                I have a chestnut TB mare and although not a pony, she is petite/wears cob size bridle. When she was younger, I had quite a bit of problem with her getting irritated with me taking contact. Doing the same behavior as you are describing. She also chewed on her bit something terrible(chewed right thru the rubber on her snaffle bit. I tried quite a few different bits and what she goes the best in is a Happy Mouth mullen mouth bit(when we use one). I think she has kind of a low palette(sp?) and small mouth and any jointed bit really irritated her. I don't show too much anymore so for most of her riding we use a hackamore. When I do show, I put the bit back in her mouth the day of the show and she was much more tolerant.


                                • Original Poster

                                  thanks guys, we do not know how she got TMJ, our chiro noted it and everytime he comes out he works on it with accupuncture. Coincidentally SImbalism, I picked up a mullen mouth Happy Mouth yesterday and will be trying it on her today. She will also start a lunging program in side reins... you guys are right on track with my trainers suggestions


                                  • #18
                                    I own this mare horse in 15.1 and black.

                                    My mare repeats this same behavior while in turnout - any time she is annoyed with the other horses, it's the exact same head shake. So, in our case, I don't think it's teeth/jaw related, but her way of letting us know she's cheesed off about something.

                                    A martingale does help curb the behavior but we know that's just a band-aid. We can see that she just prefers a certain type of ride -- definitely "hands-off" and ride with your seat, but it's harder for the kids.

                                    I'll be curious to hear what works for you, though, because I'm always open to other ideas to help...


                                    • #19
                                      When we got Nanny she did a version of this. After eliminating all pain issues (and there were some) LMEqT (who was five, very tiny and showing was not on the radar) rode her in an loose overcheck for about a year. Then we upgraded her bit to a kimberwick so she has some leverage and whenever Nanny began she popped her on the shoulder with a crop. I should add, she had unusually quiet, steady hands for such a small rider, she is very strong in her core naturally. I think the overcheck partially broke up the issue and then the stronger bit/crop "shocked" Nanny more than anything else. I havent seen a recurrence of that trick in the last four years.
                                      "Kindness is free" ~ Eurofoal
                                      The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances.


                                      • Original Poster

                                        ha S1969 ... we will have to tackle naughty mares together! lol...
                                        trainer has fallen in love with a low ported mullen dee ring that she thinks will be perfect for her. Unfortunately it has to be ordered from the Netherlands. We'll see if the mullen happy mouth helps and then take it from there.

                                        My daughter rides in the pony hunters so she is very capable and secure in seat, but this pony has just learned that she can just pull the reins right out through this head shaking move. A normal rooting move we'd know how to deal with. She's also very sensitive, heck she is a TB mare.... so I do think the bit will have alot to do with it, she may just hate the snaffle action bits, i would not be surprised.

                                        So this is the plan determined with your feedback and my trainers

                                        1. Try the mullen happy mouth, which is only available in a loose ring in pony size (and full cheek but we don't want FC)
                                        2. Ride in a flash noseband
                                        3. Lunging regimen in side reins
                                        4. Teeth done on Monday
                                        5. Chiro out on 2/12 to work on the TMJ and poll issues again
                                        6. If we think she likes the mullen mouth, this is the bit we'd get to show her in:
                                        Last edited by Mayaty02; Jan. 31, 2013, 09:47 AM. Reason: poor spelling!