Why Does My OTTB Tilt Her Head?

An OTTB who’s been off the track for three months tilts her head during bridling and at liberty. Could she be in pain? An internal medicine specialist weighs in.
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Why Does My OTTB Tilt Her Head?
If a horse appears to have a true head tilt, pursue further evaluation with your veterinarian. This might include radiographs of the skull or tests to rule out a neuorlogic disease such as equine protozoal myeloencephalitis. | Photo: Courtesy Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital

Q.My off-track Thoroughbred (OTTB) retired from racing three months ago and has started retraining for dressage. Overall, she’s being a good girl, but she’s difficult to bridle—she tilts her head when I’m pulling the bridle over her right ear. She’ll do the same head tilt when she’s turned out and during riding, always to the right. At first I thought it was an odd behavior leftover from her time at the track, but now I’m concerned it could indicate a pain-related issue, possibly her ear or jaw. A friend commented that she “looks like she has a headache.” Also, for history, I have not had her teeth done yet. Do you have any insight into head-tilt behavior like this and what could be causing it?

—Via e-mail

A.Dealing with an off-track Thoroughbred can be challenging, because the horse and new owner have to get used to each other. That means learning about each other’s idiosyncrasies and working to identify any medical issues the horse might have. The difficulty placing the bridle on the filly could be related to a change in the bit to which she might not be accustomed. But it could also indicate some problem, either in the mouth, skull, or ear

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Written by:

Steve Reed, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, earned his DVM at The Ohio State University, followed by a residency at Michigan State University. He started his academic teaching career at Washington State University from 1979-1983, and then returned to Ohio State where he spent 26 years as a professor and mentor in the equine medicine department. Reed is a Diplomate in the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and is a noted author and editor of numerous scientific articles and textbooks. He has spoken at many state, national, and international meetings. His primary research interests include equine neurologic diseases. He is currently an internal medicine specialist and shareholder at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, Emeritus Professor of The Ohio State University, an Adjunct Professor at the University of Kentucky, and the chairman of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Advisory Committee.

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