When horses throw their head it can be a sign of several things. You should observe your horse to see if he only throws is head when wearing a bit and bridle, or if he throws his head also when he is alone in a pasture or a stall. The latter type of head throwing (even when loose) can be neurological or even allergy based and you should stop riding your horse immediately and call your vet.

Reasons Horses Toss Their Head During Riding

If your horse only throws his head when the bit is on, there is a good chance the bit, or another element of his tack, is uncomfortable or painful.

Head tossing can be related to an improperly fitted saddle, so you’ll want to have your saddle fitted, try riding bareback, try with a different better-fitting saddle.

Often head tossing with a bit on is caused by a bit that does not fit the horse’s mouth or a bit that is being used improperly.

The leverage action of long shanks is countered by a straight mouth in this pelham bit. When the mouth is broken (i.e. hinged) the action of the bit can be painful if pressure is put on the reins.
The leverage action of long shanks is countered by a straight mouth in this pelham bit. When the mouth is broken (i.e. hinged) the action of the bit can be painful if pressure is put on the reins.

Tom Thumb Bits

One of the biggest causes of a horse throwing his head with the bit on is the Tom Thumb bit! Innocuously marketed as a mild “snaffle-type” western bit, the Tom Thumb Bit 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 this pain by throwing their head. If you’re using this bit, try another bit and use the Tom Thumb as tack room decor.

What Bit To Use to End Head Tossing

If you turn your horse by tugging on a rein in the direction you want to go, try a plain snaffle. If your horse turns off cues from your legs and a rein laid against their neck, plain curbs might suit your horse best.

Finally, if a change in bits does not stop your horse from throwing his head with a bit on, consider whether it might be how you use your reins- any bit can be painful if the hands holding the reins aren’t softly signaling a sensitive mouth. 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 stops throwing his head (with a bit on) with another rider, you’ll have a good clue that the horse is reacting to discomfort caused by the way you hold your reins. Ask that rider for a lesson in how they steer and hold the reins.

Go Bitless

One great option to eliminate head tossing is to try a bitless bridle. Bitless bridles come in a huge number of styles and varieties. Some of them, like some hackamores, can be even more painful for horses than a misused bit! Our recommendation for a bitless bridle is this affordable nylon sidepull style bridle that fits snugly with a padded no-slip noseband that keeps horses comfortable and riders in control.

Eliminating a bit is one way to troubleshoot head tossing
Eliminating a bit is one way to troubleshoot head tossing

Still Tossing?

If none of these suggestions seem to help your horse stop throwing his head with a bit on, 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 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 with a bit on, 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 with a bit on is an annoying and even dangerous habit. If you follow these steps you can find and eliminate the cause of your horses head throwing and make your riding time much more pleasant.

A bit that hurts your horse makes better decoration than useful tack.
A bit that hurts your horse makes better decoration than useful tack.

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