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Training any horse is a difficult process.  It takes a well-experienced rider to train horses as well as lots of time and a bucket load of ...

Monday, 18 February 2019

How To Actually Retrain Your Head Shaking Horse

I know, I know, I know.  Head shakers are so irritating.  What is causing it?  Why is it my horse?  How on earth can I fix this?  

I was in the same boat as you this time last year.  Shandy was annoyed and so was I.  I couldn't work out what was causing my horse to head shake while being ridden.  I had no idea how to fix this!  

I have spent the last year figuring it out so you don't have to.  You CAN retrain your horse to stop head shaking, just like I did.  

Chestnut horse wearing a bridle standing in front of a tree looking to the right.

Before You Start Riding

It's really important before you start to contact a trainer.  Yes, I know!  Not everyone has the money or wants help.  Your reading this online so that you DON'T need to get a trainer.  But really, you need someone that know your circumstances.  

Next, you need to work out what the cause of this head shaking problem is.  Don't worry, I had no idea when it was happening to me either.  Here are just a few reasons for head shaking.  

  • Badly fitting saddle 
  • Uncomfortable tack (like an itch saddle pad) 
  • Health Problems (sore back, bad teeth etc)
  • Your horse doesn't agree with your tack (listen!) 
  • Being badly ridden (harsh hands)
Once you have played around with changing your tack, checking his health and working on your riding position, you can move onto the retraining step.  For example, I decided to go bitless with Shandy and completely change my way of riding.  Because let's be honest, no one whats to admit they aren't riding correctly but we need to!  

You can also try to use gear that may help your horse such as a nose net for horses.  This is kind of like a fly mask for the nose that is attached to the bridle to stop dust and flies from annoying the horse.  Yeah, I'm good at describing things, just look up 'horse nose net'.  

A bay horse with strip and snip white markings wearing a bridle while standing in an outdoor school

Retraining Your Horse  

You need to re-start your horse's training to fix a head shaker.  I don't mean fully restart BUT you need to go over everything it a very relaxed way.  

I started riding with No reins (or on the buckle) and really just influencing him to go at the speed and gait that I wanted with my seat.  You will find that he will continue to head shake (it's become a habit at this point) but slowly it will go away.  

I did a lot of trotting (his worst gait for head shaking) with him and I would drop the reins, use my seat to push him into the trot and rise slowly to encourage a very relaxed, slow trot.  This really helped Shandy as he would head shake because he was so forward going and got annoyed if I didn't let him (which I would try to do with my hands, not my seat).  

As an example, I would go over the following with your horse, although this completely depends on your horse. 

  1. Walking only on a long rein for a few rides 
  2. Walking with short periods of a relaxed trot 
  3. Working on the trot (e.g. figure of eights, working on bending, and moving away from your leg without reaction)
  4. Still working on the trot but with short bursts of canter without getting tense.  
Make sure you don't move onto the next step until your horse is calm and relaxed.  Your horse should be doing the walk to trot transition in a very smooth and flowing way.  

Once you have a much calmer horse and are having calm rides consistently, you can start to pick up a tiny bit of rein.  It is important to do this very slowly as picking up the contact fully, straight away will irritate your horse.  

You can then start to slowly start to use rein aids and leg aids again.  

It really is just about taking things slow and easy for a few months, retrain him to respond to your seat instead of the reins and don't allow him to get too excited.  

A bay horse being ridden in an outdoor school with tents in the background

What are your thoughts on a head shaker?  If you have one, how did you retrain him?  Comment down below to help out others who read this post!  


I am not a horse trainer or any other equestrian professional.  I only give advice on horsey topics that I have experience as a horse owner in.  Please don't follow my advice without contacting a relevant equestrian professional.  


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