De Montfort University
Maybe you’re just getting to grips with a new mount this spring or you’re bringing on your youngster. Imagine your horror to find your horse won’t stop shaking its head and your dreams of being able to compete or even go for a short hack safely begin to crumble around you. Head shaking must be one of the most distressing conditions a horse owner might have to deal with. But take heart this spring – head shaking need not mean the end to you and your horse’s riding career. New research is helping vets and owners to understand and give practical solutions to this commonly misunderstood problem.
Nowadays it seems that everyone knows someone with a head shaker. But what is a ‘head shaker’ and what distinguishes them from a horse with a short-term irritation or behaviour problem? Most horses shake their heads from time to time to get rid of flies or when frustrated, ‘classic’ head shakers do so persistently and for no apparent reason. Horses that simply nod their heads when stabled or on the turn home from a ride, may not be head shakers but ‘nodders’. These horses can respond to changes in management and do not usually cause great problems to themselves or their owner.
True head shakers exhibit sharp, jerky vertical and horizontal head movements. The severity of the movements can vary from small flicks to huge, sweeping arcs that can threaten to hit the rider on the nose or unseat them. Experts now recognise that classic head shakers also exhibit symptoms that suggest the horse is suffering from irritation within or around the face and muzzle. Thus head shakers that also snort excessively during an attack, try to rub their face or act as if a bee has gone up their nose. They may even run their nose along the ground or strike at it mid-attack. Moreover the unpredictability of the length and occurrence of these attacks can severely limit a rider’s ability to compete or even ride safely.
For more information, please visit the Equilibrium Website