Why Do Horses Bob Their Heads?

December 14, 2022
Why Do Horses Bob Their Heads

Horses use body language to communicate with humans and one another. They express their intentions through their ears, mouths, feet, tails, heads, and necks. It is up to you to determine how you interpret the signs correctly.

The horses’ head bobbing can express many emotions, including joy, grief, frustration, and pain. For example, they bob their heads when uncomfortable due to ear infections, bugs, or even when they are in pain. And in other cases, horses also nod their heads to say hello.

You must understand why your horse is bobbing their head so that you can assist them if necessary. Continue reading to learn why horses bob their head and what you should do.

Is Head Bobbing Normal In Horses

The horse’s neck is essential to the animal’s overall locomotion system due to how its muscles operate together. For example, if you tense your shoulder muscles and pull them up and forward, your neck will undoubtedly follow.

Likewise, when a horse’s leg strikes the ground, the body responds by relaxing the neck muscles and propelling the head forward. As a result, the energy of head movement is stored and released by the neck ligaments.

Why Do Horses Bob Their Heads

Horses may bob or toss their heads for a variety of reasons. Therefore, it is critical to identify the source of the problem before resorting to more drastic measures such as tightening the bit, using a martingale, or securing the horse with a tie-down.

It is not fair to your horse to tie its head so that it cannot move away from anything that may cause pain or discomfort. In the section below, we’ll discuss several reasons horses bob their heads.

1. Horse Dental Problems

A variety of factors might contribute to tooth or mouth discomfort. For example, when something is troubling your horse in its mouth, a horse will usually shake its head. Given this, it’s no surprise that a veterinarian will advise you to have your horse’s teeth checked frequently.

Horses’ teeth wear unevenly due to constant chewing, resulting in painful hooks and edges. While chewing on these sharp protrusions, the horse may cut itself. In addition, biting down can be excruciatingly painful if the horse has dental problems. Therefore, most horses require teeth cleaning and rasping, also known as floating, at least once a year.

Examining your horse’s teeth at least once every six months is ideal, but it may be necessary more often. The first step in resolving head shaking or tossing issues should be to examine the horse’s oral hygiene. Wolf teeth, which are extra teeth that grow in front of the chewing teeth, can also cause biting problems. Speaking with your veterinarian about this will provide you with valuable information.

2. Problems With Horse Bits

When you put the bit in the horse’s mouth, ensure it doesn’t hurt. Is it so thick or filling that it causes mouth discomfort? Is the curb bit rotating too much in the horse’s mouth due to a loose curb strap? When it’s too low, does it clatter against the horse’s front teeth, and when it’s too high, does it irritate the horse’s gums and lips? Is it because the surface is too rough, has sharp edges, or has rusted?

Some horses may be uncomfortable with a bit’s feel, weight, or shape due to its metal. However, if you try a few different bits, you might find one that your horse will accept without throwing its head back. Consider the chance that you will only be able to temporarily treat the problem rather than truly solve it if you decide to “fix” it using a harsher bit, tie-down, or martingale. If you do that, you could make matters far worse.

If your horse is acting up, remember that it is reacting to something you or someone else did in the past. A horse that bobs its head at you is most likely trying to communicate with you. When it speaks with you, it expresses itself in this manner. The ability to “listen to horses” will always be valuable.

3. Problems With The Saddle

When an ill-fitting saddle pinches your horse’s back, it can cause a variety of undesirable behaviors, including head tossing. Likewise, a saddle that doesn’t fit properly is a common source of “bad” behavior. Saddles can change shape over time, so check them regularly to ensure they still fit your horse correctly.

4. Insects Annoy The Horse

Some horses toss their heads because mosquitoes swarming around their ears disturb them. That can drive the horse to try to shake off bothersome insects, which can delay a trail ride. It would be best to consider using earplugs and bug spray.

If you have a horse that becomes very worried when bitten by insects, it is best to ride during the day when there are fewer biting insects or to ride indoors. The horse’s head may shake until the colder weather arrives and the insects have vanished.

5. Rider Mishandling The Reins

Horses frequently fling their heads because riders do not control the reins appropriately. Therefore, the first skills a rider must learn are light, sympathetic hands that follow the horse’s movement while retaining sufficient contact for control.

That is the most valuable skill a rider can acquire. Taking lessons from a teacher who can educate the rider on developing a gentle and dynamic connection with the horse’s mouth will help to lessen this prevalent cause of head tossing. In addition, the trainer will assist the student in becoming a more skilled rider.

6. Head Bobbing While Jogging

Most horses bob their heads while moving, but jogging horses don’t do it. Instead, the horse uses its diagonally opposed foot pairs to propel itself forward in a two-beat movement known as jogging. The horse jogs by using its diagonally opposing hoof pairs. It’s worth mentioning that this is considered polite conduct and almost seldom involves head bobbing.

Unless the horse has a limb or foot problem, its head should not move up and down during a jog. As a result, a lameness assessment should be conducted on a jogging horse with a prominent head bob. Perhaps the horse is suffering from chest trouble. Furthermore, a horse’s jog is the quickest and most accurate method of diagnosing lameness.

7. Your Horse Could Have Lameness

With each stride, a horse’s head and neck cause a weight shift away from the painful leg, resulting in the characteristic bobbing motion. In this manner, the horse can alleviate the strain on its injured limb. If your horse’s head bobs up and down more than it does side to side, the lameness is in the front legs.

When the unaffected leg is resting on the ground, the head will be higher, and when the affected leg is bearing weight, the head will be lower. However, if the horse’s head drops significantly with each stride, the lameness is more likely to originate in one of the hind limbs; when the horse jogs, its head drops to the ground while the foreleg diagonal to the injured leg strikes the ground.

How To Detect Lameness From Horse Head Movement

Allow a friend to jog your horse across a smooth, flat surface while you stand about 20 feet away and perpendicular to the horse’s path. You’ll be able to pinpoint the exact limb causing problems if you do this. Allow some slack in the lead line if you don’t want to limit your horse’s ability to turn its head.

As the rider passes, keep a steady gaze straight ahead, allowing them to move in and out of your outer vision so you can take in the horse’s full form. If you try to follow the horse’s motion with your eyes, you might mistake one of its legs for the correct answer.

You might be unable to tell which leg is injured if you watch the horse pass by several times without noticing any abnormalities. When the horse is turning, you may only see a slight limp.

How To Identify Lameness In Forequarters

Horses with one front leg lame will have their heads lowered. Lameness in the horse’s hindquarters or rear legs can be diagnosed by observing whether or not the animal pops its hip upward. A horse may not bob its head if it has apparent lameness in its front and back legs. Instead, they will most likely stroll.

If the horse’s front legs are lame, you can tell which is the problem by observing which one strikes the ground first when it lifts its head. It will be impossible to establish which of the front legs is lame if both are affected. When a horse’s good leg makes contact with the ground, its head drops and rises when the animal’s wounded foot or leg does.

How To Identify Lameness In Hindquarters

If the lameness is in the horse’s hindquarters, a slight lowering of the hip position on the lame side is expected. Bilateral hindquarter stiffness causes horses to walk with a rigid stride and may not wobble their heads. The horse’s head movement reflects its attempt to shift its center of gravity away from the wounded limb.

It is simplest to locate the site of an injury if you begin at the hooves and work your way up. Stone bruises can cause lameness, aching soles after trimming, injuries and strain anywhere up the leg, and other factors.

What Causes Lameness In Horses?

One symptom of lameness, a locomotor system disorder, is an abnormal gait or stance. As a result, this horse cannot stand or move normally. Most horses become unusable due to lameness. In addition, trauma and diseases of the nervous system, circulatory system, and metabolism can contribute to the condition.

No disease causes lameness. Neuromuscular disorders, mechanical constraints on stance and gait, and pain are all potential causes. Mechanical lameness occurs when the patella becomes completely fixed in an upward position, resulting in the abnormal gait that characterizes the condition. Annular ligaments, adhesions, severe fibrosis, and fibrotic myopathy of the semitendinosus muscle can all play a role.

When you thoroughly examine the horse, you may find stone bruises on the hoof sole, slight puffiness or swelling on a leg, or tender spots that make the horse flinch when you touch them. A horse is injured if there is swelling, redness, or warmth at the site of the injury. Any injury in the pasture or the stall can result in lameness. Microbial infections, such as greasy heels and thrush, can, on the other hand, cause hoof problems.

What Is The Difference Between Head Shaking And Head Bobbing?

A horse’s head may bob or shake for a variety of reasons. In horses, there is usually some distinction between head bobbing and head shaking. However, there are similarities between the two, such as they can be caused by the same things, such as insects, an uncomfortable saddle, or dental issues.

Cribbing, windsucking, and weaving are the most common stereotyped behaviors. However, this category also includes the condition known as headshaking. That is known as stall vices in the case of horses, affecting about 15% of those kept as pets. As a result, an overabundance of specific nerves that provide face sensations may blame horses’ head shaking. That could be causing the typical horse head shaking.

What Should You Do If Your Horse Is Head Bobbing?

To begin, it is not unusual for a horse’s head to bob around or nods as part of its normal behavior. The most crucial factor is how much they bob and if you’ve noticed when your horse is bobbing more than usual.

Furthermore, because a horse’s head nodding is the only way to express its emotions, correcting it for doing so is cruel. Punishing him will signal that you don’t care what they think, which will only worsen matters.

If you notice any agitation coming from the hooves, saddle, or brushes, it’s time to investigate further. Making eye contact and conversing with them as a final step can help them feel more at ease. They crave your praise and admiration, and they’re itching to let off steam.


Horses often nod their heads or bob their heads for a reason. That could be for happy or sad reasons. Bobs of the head that are slower and steadier are more likely to be affectionate and enthusiastic, while nods that are faster and frantic may indicate anxiety or annoyance. Horses use head nods to communicate a variety of messages, including “hello,” “thank you,” “I’m in pain,” and “glad to see you.”




I'm Bo, the owner of Smarter Horse. Helping horses be smarter by educating their people.  To find out more about me, click here

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