Quirk: Headshaking

Connor has always been a quirky horse, both undersaddle and in the barn.  His turnout quirk.  His not-being-able-to-ride-past-my-trainer quirk.  His people-walking-straight-up-to-him quirk.

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.
My trainer says he does it with her too, and it makes her nervous because she's worried he's going to spook himself doing it because the shaking is SO intense.  It sounds weird, but I honestly don't mind it myself.  I know that it means my warmup is effective, and my ride is about to dramatically improve.

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?

18 comments:

  1. Fiction does something similar. Like when I finally get him into a super awesome power trot where I can just feel him stepping under himself....and then he will throw his head and llama it up because apparently stuff like that is TOO HARD. I wish his head tossing translated into a good ride haha.

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    1. Aw man, that stinks. I'd be so annoyed if Connor's headshaking interrupted a good ride. Thankfully it just makes my ride better. Fiction needs to talk to Connor and get on his plan!

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  2. I wonder if Connor might have little crick somewhere that he needs to "shake out" before he can really settle in. Carrot stretches before riding could help. Or braid some of his mane so its not touching his ears? See if that alleviates the problem?

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    1. That's a good theory. I am definitely going to try braiding...when it's not 15F.

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  3. Haha yeah I was going to suggest practicing your braiding, but no one does that when it's 15f. NO ONE.

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  4. Yup, Tristan farts. Long and loud. Sometimes a whole long side. And then he relaxes and cooperates. Every. Time.

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  5. It's almost like he is releasing his last bits of tension doing that. Funny pony! Hampton will sneeze.

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  6. I wish he would give me a cue hahaha

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  7. Since it is an evasion, and it is predictable, you can make it go away by holding onto your bucking strap or the front of your saddle. If he doesn't get any satisfaction from it, he will stop. You should be glad he's not an arab, my mare can head fling so well when she's mad I can stare into her nostrils from on top of her back. Training, connection, and not letting her yank me forward help.

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  8. Interesting! He's just putting his gameface on haha :)

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  9. eh not so much a tell for good work, but I can tell when Ramone wants to spook, his ears almost pop off his head from a mile away

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  10. Whisper shakes her head more when her mane is braided... mostly when she starts to sweat and it gets itchy....

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  11. Ries does this too but it doesn't mean he will be coming onto my aids. He did this at the past shows and coupled it with semi-rearing and overall unhappiness. In the indoor he would be ok, just not outside. So we warmed up in the indoor, hung out, and when the other rider left the ring we hauled ass over and just kept his brain moving

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  12. Bridget has to snort repeatedly, then all is right with the world :)

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  13. huh that's wild!! and kinda awesome that there's such a clear routine to how your rides typically progress. my mare can slip on and off the aids pretty easily, especially as a ride progresses... no real 'tell' tho...

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  14. My two do the head shake, not too bad though. I tell them they have nothing compared to an Arab helicopter head shake. At least you know the sign.

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  15. Gavin doesn't have a "getting in to good work" tell, but he definitely has a warm-up ritual that involves two loud coughs (this horse wouldn't show well for sale). He also has a pretty serious tail flick when he's pissed.

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  16. Maggie does something very similar! Its probably not as consistent as Conner seems to do it, but fairly regularly. It's always when I'm asking with my legs for her to go forward and its when I'm really having to insist like, "no seriously - you have to go forward!" And then she gives a little head shake and often a hysterical little grunt before she actually moves off my leg. It's totally like she saying, "uhhgghh FINE MOM."

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