Is head tossing always a horse being resistant?

“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.

natural head toss




  1. Amanda Dawn on January 26, 2023 at 4:13 pm

    I was looking for thoughts on the behavior from the ground. I had to do some scrolling to get past “how to stop your horse from throwing it’s head to take the reigns.” My horse has only ever pulled the reigns when I was too tense and I’m actually pretty okay with that. Usually he throws his head when we are practicing free jumping and he decides to run passed it. He also does it when he comes in for breakfast or when he’s running with other horses or when I call him in for training. I think it’s high energy, usually excitement sometimes anxeity. He got his teeth done recently the chiropractor says he’s comfortable and he is very cooperative if a little cheeky sometimes, but that probably what I love most about him.

  2. Jessica delap on August 19, 2020 at 9:08 am

    I think it can be a sign of happiness. We just got a two year old welsh colt pony. He was so depressed when we got him…sick and worked to the bone. His personality started to come out once he started feeling better from the medicine and loved on our property. He does what I call a “happy dance” on the way to get food, where he runs or trots and throws his head all around. I’ve also observed him doing it when running in the field in the mornings when it feels nice. I just chalk it up to him being HAPPY. We’ve saddled him up twice now and he doesn’t do it under the saddle. He just finally feels good and free.

  3. Lisa Afshari on November 8, 2014 at 9:22 pm

    We have a great boy at our barn who does this all the time, even when he is being brought in for feed. We call it the “Stevie Wonder Waltz”.

  4. Jenny Hiscox on November 8, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    I had a stallion who was always tossing his head in quite a unique, sort of circular way, that I thought looked annoyed or impatient. I noticed, though, that he would do it when alone in his paddock or stall, and at times when I didn’t think he could possibly be upset. Then I noticed that many of his daughters did exactly the same thing, also when I couldn’t see any possibility of them being annoyed at anything.

    I must add that this stallion was extremely quiet, gentle, and eager to please; so it really didn’t fit that he would be constantly expressing annoyance or impatience.

    I later read somewhere that a horse with that habit, when autopsied after his death, was discovered to have tiny boils or abscesses all the way down his trachia. My horse did suffer from allergies and heaves and was on a high dose of prednizone the entire time I owned him, so I guess he could have had something like that.

  5. Mindy on November 8, 2014 at 10:43 am

    My little half-Arab mare does this head tossing also. Most often when I’m calling all 4 of the horses to come down for feeding times. It’s almost as if she’s telling them “come on – it’s dinner time”. She will be, 95% of the time, the first one to reach me in the pasture then they all follow me in a line to the barn.

  6. Tracy Johnson on November 8, 2014 at 10:09 am

    At the Stables where i volunteer, we have a couple of horse that throw their heads around, and it comes from the mother, she is a quiet horse but when she see’s food coming by way of a truck or by us walking to her paddock. She also does it when she is running around. All of her foal’s do the very same thing too. I have seen one or two other horse take on this throwing of the head too. Maybe it is a communication between the horses to say dinners ready or breakfast is ready. They do it at play too as well as buck and kick with their tails raised high in the air. I often watch the horse especially at play and it is infectious once one starts running they all start running. They are such a happy bunch. Its funny because when they do that it makes me feel happy too.

  7. Kim Zeller on November 8, 2014 at 8:56 am

    Thanks so much Stacy! Great information!!

  8. Rebecca Fetterman Vensel on November 8, 2014 at 8:17 am

    Two of my arabians I’ve owned in the past toss their heads like they are showing off their manes. It’s as if they were filming a commercial for Maybelline hair products, lol! They do this out in the pasture at play. I am wondering if it is an inherent trait or if the gelding learned it from the mare as they are mother and son. I still own the gelding and he has never done this in any aggressive manner so there is no reason for me to correct it. It only happens occasionally, as he gives a toss or two, there is no indication of discomfort, and I find it beautiful to watch. 🙂

    • Cathy Lengeling on November 8, 2014 at 9:26 am

      Rebecca, I have a an Arabian filly, coming two years old who ‘snakes her neck’ …she started this about the same time as her heat cycles started…14 months….her dam did the same thing out in the pasture when playing or addressing another herd member. Sweet girls, beautiful dark bays with similar markings and very long manes and tails. I have never seen the mom do it inside her stall but the daughter will. genetic or behavioral? not a problem when they go to work! or are handled. Expression on their own I surmise.

  9. Fay Seymour on November 8, 2014 at 6:54 am

    I have to wonder, if, at some point, the head tossing behavior was somehow rewarded. It seems as if it served some purpose for this horse, and now it continues. I had a horse that would toss his head as I came to feed him his grain. It wasn’t a behavior he had after I bought him, but developed later. Somehow, I must have rewarded him for doing this, so it continued, until I worked to replace it with an alternate behavior (back and stand quietly).

  10. Jennifer Clements on November 8, 2014 at 3:41 am

    My daughter McKedra’s horse Bump in the Night does a lot of it in a rather Fabio fashion! Enough that everyone in the family sings “whip my hair back and forth” when they see him doing it. For him it only seems to be a habit, he’s never being stubborn or resistant in any way…he’s cute and he knows it 😀

  11. Valerie Morrison on November 8, 2014 at 1:02 am

    Mine tosses her head up and down so fast that it makes her lower lip flop and smack. I have to laugh when she does it. I tell her to stop and she listens.

  12. Chelsea Farace on November 8, 2014 at 12:14 am

    My horse does this ALL the time!! Regardless of if i’m around or not. It’s just a quirk and part of his personality. It’s actually hilarious and he never does it under saddle and it is most common when i’m talking to him in his stall, or we are playing around together~ especially if he is really wanting to show off, or he’s realllly feeling good that particular day. I should honestly record a video because he cocks his head sideways when he does it and looks all crazy like.

  13. Michelle on November 7, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    Found this interesting as my boy does this as soon as I arrive in the morning for feeding…. First I thought that oh he saying hello and then I wonderered if he was been rude… I have googled as to why he may do this

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