Swinging nose side to side

My 20 year old mare has an odd head carriage that I am wondering about. In trot, she swings her nose (just her nose) from side to side at each step. Like a pendulum with her poll at the top but the movement is side-to-side, not a head bob or head-shaking. It’s evenly paced, there with every step. I ride her in a dressage-based style but I do not show and I also use her for driving (pleasure driving). She has some conformational quirks - most prominently a very flat loin and croup (has Arab in her bloodlines). She has a nice forward walk and a steady rhythmic trot (this is her preferred gait). She has a lot of difficulty in canter, which I thought was due to her flat croup. Because she is a driving horse and does not need to canter, I have pretty much “retired” her from the ridden canter, after several fruitless veterinary/training/chiropractic attempts to improve it and now her ridden work is focused on keeping her forward and supple to support her driving job, but not to ascend dressage levels. I am noticing this lateral nose swinging though and wondering if anyone has seen this and what it might be. Nothing seems to affect it - I just try to ride her forward and don’t restrict her head in any way but it does not improve even with very forward trot. I have not seen similar in the other riding horses at our farm. Thoughts?

How long has she been doing this?
How long have you had her?
Does she do the same thing at liberty?
When did she most recently have her teeth done?
How easily can she bend her neck side-to-side (e.g., carrot stretch)?
Does she have any TMJ soreness or stiffness?

I’m sure if you will please answer these (and maybe other) questions, folks will chime in with further thoughts and possible courses of action.

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Thanks! I have had her for 8 years. The nose swing I have only noticed the past 6 months or so, although it is possible a more subtle version was there before.

Previous/ongoing issues include a weak hind end- the flat loin and croup I mentioned and stands narrow behind with a tendency to rope walk. Canter has always been hard- originally she could only canter under saddle with a lot of speed and by throwing her head forward and down quite noticeably. With careful forward work and strength building I got her to the point of a more normal left lead but right lead was always very difficult (even at liberty) and she recently started stumbling behind when asked to right lead canter. Bc she is 20, I don’t show, and efforts to improve canter have never been really successful I’ve retired her from the canter out of fear of injuring her (or me!)
No change in canter issue with Adequan or Legend and no specific lameness ever found. Neuro exams normal.

She is a compact (14.1) horse and quite laterally flexible with her neck - can do carrot stretches to her belly either side.

Teeth checked regularly (2 months ago last time) -old mare teeth (worn) but not severe issues. No TMJ issues that have been noticed by vet or chiro (although it’s been awhile since she had chiro eval). She has a thick tongue and is picky about bits- went through a string of bits when I got her with evasions like tongue over and head twisting but I found that she likes a myler comfort snaffle with a barrel and have used this ever since.

My suspicion is that there is neck arthritis somewhere (poll?) and the side-to-side muzzle swing is bc she is trying to avoid poll flexion. It’s just an unusual looking motion that I have not seen in other horses. I am wondering if others have seen similar and been able to trace it back to a particular issue. Thanks!

When my big WB did that, it was a symptom of not being straight, and the cause was his hind end. So, if you can work with a trainer to identify the issue, you can hopefully resolve that. For him, it was simply doing more lateral work to get him more symmetrically balanced back there


I’ve also had a lot of luck improving contact quirkiness by focusing on strengthening hide-end and top line. It’s pretty general but if she’s physically ok, it might just be she’s showing her weakness in this way. I had other trainers suggest all sorts of techniques for my horse’s contact issues (fussy mouth opening / tongue over the bit sometimes) but ultimately what has worked to improve is ignoring it and just focusing on straightness and strength (they go together). The contact issues have been resolving on their own. (This was the advice of a very good / perceptive clinician and it’s working).


Next time your vet is out, have a neuro exam done. The rope walking and head wagging are symptoms my neuro horse had back when he could still be ridden. The extra effort to canter could also be a signal that the messages to the hind end aren’t coming through.


All good thoughts!!! When I first got my imported gp schoolmaster (this was more than 20 years ago), he would wag his head from side to side and my instructor would yell at me to stop wagging the bit. The thing was, I was NOT wagging the bit. I finally figured out that he hated a loose ring kk snaffle and LOVED a tight eggbutt as he wanted to keep the center part centered on his tongue. Once I switched bits, the wagging went away. Probably not your issue, but a thought.


My horse will sometimes wag his head when I’m inconsistent in the contact - if I’m throwing it away, uneven in the reins, too wide, he pings back and forth. When I take a moment to reassess the connection, establish correct bend, keep my hands narrow, the wagging goes away.

I agree it’s important to assess there isn’t anything neuro going on, as tilting or wagging can be a symptom, but in my case, I just needed to ride better :joy: