Your favorite horse is tacked up and ready for your daily ride. You mount up, and as soon as you begin warming up in your outdoor ring, he starts tossing his head and sneezing. The sneezing eventually stops, but every time you try to begin work, he tosses his head. You get off and apply more fly spray, thinking its just the annoying gnats and flies that are beginning to emerge, but the head tossing continues. You check your bridle and make sure the bit is in the correct place and not too tight–everything looks OK. The next day, you change bits. It must be your horse just doesn’t like the taste of the new snaffle. Then your ride is the same–if not worse–than yesterday. Almost constant head tossing makes it impossible to train your horse effectively. Weeks go by, and some days are better than others, but you wonder what in the world is going on, and how am I ever going to get this horse into a dressage arena?
This is a headshaker–welcome to their world. What is headshaking and what compels horses to toss their heads over and over? And what can be done to stop it? For answers to these questions and more, read on.
What Is Headshaking?
Horses shaking their heads might not seem like a big problem. Horses shake their heads all the time, usually while outside in the paddock or in their stalls in an attempt to avoid insects that pester their face and muzzle. So what’s the big deal? Headshaking, however, is different. It takes on a whole new meaning when this behavior is performed frequently, if not constantly, while the horse is being ridden, and nothing about this behavior is normal. Headshaking is the act of the horse flipping its nose into the air, sometimes even shaking its head from side to side. This type of headshaking, the pathologic manifestation, also often involves rubbing the muzzle and sneezing. N