Headshaking is common in horses, but it’s often misunderstood. Vet Sarah Smith, from Langford Vets, tells us more about this mysterious condition
Recent research has shown that only 25% of owners with a headshaking horse sought veterinary help. In the past, it was believed that this was an evasive behaviour, and that horses were simply being badly behaved and needed a strong rider and more severe tack. But as our understanding of the condition has improved, attitudes have changed significantly among horse owners and vets. However, there’s still quite a long way to go.
What is headshaking?
One reason for the huge amount of misunderstanding is that the term headshaking simply refers to the visible clinical sign – the fact the horse is shaking his head – and not the underlying cause of the problem.
Headshaking can be caused by any number of things, but it’s usually pain or irritation that causes the horse to throw his head around. Pinpointing the underlying cause is tricky, though, but it’s important to find the cause so the condition can be successfully treated and managed.
Identifying a pattern to your horse’s headshaking can help your vet find the underlying source of the pain.
When your horse shakes his head, does it happen…
- all the time?
- only when ridden?
- only in some seasons of the year?
- only when in certain fields or paddocks?
And when he shakes his head…
- does he flick his head up and down or round in circles?
- is his head tipped to one side?
It’s also worth considering whether…
- he’s performing well otherwise
- he drops food when he eats
- he reacts abnormally when you touch any part of his head
Pick up a copy of November Horse&Rider to understand more about headshaking, its causes and how to tackle the problem, on sale 20 September.