My Horse Pulls and Shakes Her Head Whenever I Ride

Q: “My horse constantly pulls against me and shakes his head when I ride. How can I fix this?”

From Sally


Hi Sally,

There’s no magic fix for head shaking or any other problem.

Like all problems, head shaking doesn’t exist in isolation.

Your horse’s head-shaking could be caused by any number of things.

It can be a symptom of overfeeding and also of inconsistent training.

Head shaking can be a sign that your horse is worried because he thinks he’s going to be galloped or forced over jumps that are too high.

A horse can learn to shake his head and pull the reins from the rider, so he can take control and do his own thing.

There are many other reasons that a horse shakes his head.

If you hang onto the reins all the time, your horse will be very uncomfortable.

The only way he can stop the bit pulling against him is to shake his head and pull the reins from your hands.

Such a horse finds some relief when he does this, because the rider gives the rein for a few seconds.

You must remember when a horse shakes his head, he stops thinking and starts fighting.

This can be a very dangerous situation.

You can easily eliminate your horse’s head shaking being caused by his teeth or his bit.

Have his teeth done and always ride him in a plain loose-ring snaffle bit without nosebands, tie downs or any other contraptions.

The fact that your horse ‘works out of it’ suggests that he may be overfed and underworked.

You may need to cut back your horse’s grain ration and increase the amount of exercise he’s given.

Your horse needs to be ridden at least five days a week.

Remember, a paddock of rich pasture will have the same effect as feeding your horse grain.

Always lunge your horse before you ride him. Use a plain headstall and a long lead rope.

Trot and canter him for a few circles, then give him a break.

Next, trot and canter him in the other direction for a few circles before again giving him a break.  

Lunge him in this fashion for ten or fifteen minutes.

You must get rid of your horse’s excess energy before he’s ridden.

It’s pointless to try and teach any horse anything when he’s full of excess energy.

This is one of things I demonstrate and explain in my Fear-free Fundamentals Online Clinic.

At first, always ride your horse in an arena or an enclosed area.

Trot him in a circle and make sure he moves exactly where you ask.

Every time the horse shakes his head, you must do something about it.

It’s not a question of “waiting until he settles down”.

It’s a question of taking control and having your horse do what you want, when you want.

 Every time your horse shakes his head, immediately pull him around in a tight circle.

If he shakes his head ten times in one twenty metre circle, you must pull him around ten times.

By doing this, head shaking will be unpleasant for the horse.

When your horse moves around as you ask, make things easy for him by not pulling against him.

Your horse will soon work out that it’s easy and pleasant to trot around in the manner you want.

He’ll also learn that it’s unpleasant to shake his head and try to pull the reins from the rider.

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