“Great article Stacy and funny timing. Just last night when I was lunging my horse(the first time he has worked in 4 months) he started tossing his head as he cantered around the round pen. I have seen him do it a lot before, but not when we are working together. He does it out in the field as he casually walks in for dinner when the others gallop in, and I have seen it as he chases other horses around, or if he is already in but waiting for his food. What does this mean when we are working together? Is he being bossy? What should I do when he does this? Other than the head tossing he was totally obedient and sharp.”-Kim Z
I love that you have watched your horse this much!
You listed three separate times that you have observed this behavior from your horse when you were NOT involved. This is an important observation because it gives the impression that your horse is using this as a form of expression, or a habit. Why does he have this particular habit? I’m not sure. Why does one person have a habit of chewing on their tongue or another person might absently twirl their hair. Not everyone has these habits but some do.
The fact that your horse does this away from you makes it less likely that it is aimed at you. There are a few things you can do at this point but really, all the roads are going to lead in the same direction.
First, you can continue to collect information by watching your horse. You can try to see if there is one emotion that seems to be more strongly tied with the habit, for example excited. You can also have him looked at by a chiropractor, vet and dentist to rule out physical causes. It is always fun to keep learning.
Second, you can start to shape his habits into new ones. Simply beginning a consistent training routine may cause the habit to decrease. You can also ask yourself what exercises could help discourage this behavior. One idea would be to keep the horse on a line even if you are in the round pen. This way you can apply pressure to the line to discourage the tossing. Also think about ways to keep him thinking, maybe putting out obstacles will redirect his attention.
I am glad that you recognized this behavior in so many places because it means that you are studying your horse which means you are well on your way to a deeper understanding.