I first noticed his protest-related headshaking quirk in January of 2014, when it was just two quick shakes, but as his flatwork has gotten harder, the headshaking has intensified. To clarify, this is not headshaking with a capital H, it's headshaking with a little h.
|All of the pictures in this post are from an unrated event in August of 2015, taken by Connor's breeder. This is pre-headshake: tense, FLYING around the warmup, won't bend, won't soften, won't relax, won't listen to my aids.|
That's still happening, but now he intensely shakes his head for about a 20m circle or two every ride, hard enough to pull me out of the saddle, just once. And speeds up while he's doing it.
It's a total act of protest. Not to anthropomorphize, but it happens at the same point in every ride, just when my warmup is about to turn into real work and he's about to come on my aids and get really good. It feels like he's saying: "Nooooo I can feel myself coming onto her aids! Must...resist..." But he can't resist and he slips into good work right after that. It's the turning point of every ride.
|Mid head-shake, same ride.|
Also, it's not going to happen in the show ring. We get it out of the way in the warmup ring, and then we don't let his feet stop moving until his test is over, even on the walk over to the show ring. The process is Mediocre Warmup > Headshaking > Awesome Warmup > Awesome Work.
|Aaaaaand then we scored a 27.0 minutes later.|
The other interesting thing is that he tends not to do it as much when his mane is braided, which makes me think maybe it's stimulus related. He has a hard time with sorting through large amounts of stimuli, both auditory and sensory, and I wonder if the sensation of his mane touching his ears is too much at that moment, until he goes onto my aids. When he's on my aids, he tunes out the world, and, ostensibly, his mane touching his ears too.
Anyone ever had a horse with a "tell" like this when they're about to come on the aids?