My horse suddenly refuses to turn left. Any ideas why?

Paint HorseQuestion: I have a blk/white paint/qrt horse. She is 4 yrs and I’ve had her 2 yrs. She’s a good horse but the last 2 weeks she wont turn her head left when on her back; she starts to rear up but on ground work she turns her head left. I don’t know what is going on but she started to do this 2 weeks ago.

Answer from April Reeves: It could be a number of things: tooth problem, training issue, back problem or lameness. Let’s try to diagnose each one and find the appropriate solution. It is a bit unusual for a horse to suddenly not want to turn when she has been good for you previously.

Tooth problem:
If it is a tooth issue it is worth having a vet out. You can feel around in there but be careful not to get bit. Work her gums back so you can see her gum line and teeth. The problem won’t be that far back, since it sounds like the bit may be hitting the sore tooth area when you ask for the turn.

If the mare leads to the left in a halter easily, it could still be a tooth issue, as the halter does not pull on the sore area while leading, but if you put a bit in her mouth and lead her, you may find that she fusses and has problems with it. If the mare fusses being led around and ridden to the left, it could be a tooth issue.

Back and spine:
If the mare had a fall you were not aware of, it may be pinching a nerve with you on her in the turn. Only a vet or equine chiropractor could sort this out. If you try the training exercise below with negative results, consult your vet.

Watch and see if the horse limps at all. You may not be able to catch it, but some horses tend to react stronger than others, even though they don’t appear sore. Your horse would likely fuss while being led to the left, with or without a rider.

Most lame horses don’t rear and use those lame and sore legs though, so let’s see if it is a training issue.

Take the bridle off and use a halter and a lead rope tied around for reins. Have someone on the ground beside you. Walk the mare forward, ask for a turn to the right, gently asking her to follow the feel instead of a hard mechanical pull. Use your inside leg and ask her to bend. Then take her straight, and ask for your left turn, gently turning her head to the left and using your inside leg for bend.

If she fusses and rears, it’s likely a training issue as there will be no pressure on her teeth or gums from a bit. Have the handler on the ground put a lead on her. Walk her forward again and ask for the turn. Have the handler lead the horse to the left as you ask for the turn. Keep the handler walking the mare to the left, then straighten and go to the right. Continue this exercise with the handler until the mare is quiet and comfortable with turning left.

Try to see if it’s something you are doing also. When turning, always ask your horse softly as opposed to yanking the horse around. Aggressive fast moves with a horse is the equivalent to having a person shout at you. The softer you get, the more responsive the horse gets.

Now that the mare is okay with turning left with a handler and halter, put your bridle on over the halter and ask for the turns gently. If she begins to act up again, have the handler put a lead on her and go back to softly asking for the turn while the handler leads her.

Sometimes you just have to go back to basics with horses, no matter how old they are or how trained.

If she continues to rear and fuss, you may be best to call a vet and have her checked thoroughly.

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