Headshaking in Horses: A Sensitive Matter

There’s a nerve-tingling explanation behind many equine headshaking cases. Here’s what you need to know.
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headshaking in horses
Equine headshaking has long been a research interest, but scientists continue to hone in on what causes this vexing condition and how to best manage it. | Photo: iStock

There’s a nerve-tingling explanation behind many  headshaking cases

A toss of the head. A flip of the nose. It seems so benign, right? A horse that shakes his head continually, almost viciously, however, is no trivial matter. This type of headshaking can be frustrating for owners, detrimental to horse welfare, and pose diagnostic and treatment challenges for veterinarians.

Equine headshaking has long been a research interest, but scientists continue to hone in on what causes this vexing condition and how to best manage it. Let’s take a look at what they’re learning.

Hitting a Nerve

Sure, it’s possible your horse is shaking his head to deter flies or it’s simply a repetitive behavior he’s developed, but the truly uncontrollable and chronic headshaking that poses a danger to both horse and human is typically due to nerve pain. Researchers call it trigeminal-mediated headshaking

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Alexandra Beckstett, a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as assistant editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse. She was the managing editor of The Horse for nearly 14 years and is now editorial director of EquiManagement and My New Horse, sister publications of The Horse.

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