In this week’s episode of “What Next?” we will investigate headshaking because

It’s not a thing if my horse doesn’t have it

Or so he says. Or my Munchausen syndrome by proxy does. Either one.



Having a whale of a time


No, in all seriousness, this is something that has been on my mind for the last two weeks and also not something I have had to deal with before. None of my horses have ever had this issue, so you’ll have to excuse me for feeling a bit woah about all the information out there.

It basically started with what I assume would be the normal clinical sign of headshaking… being that of a horse who bobs and shakes his head for seemingly no apparent reason.


This is a pretty good indication of my situation. I tried filming it but the video went walkabout.


It primarily came out on the lunge and was generally worse when trotting or cantering. It did occur somewhat under saddle but definitely didn’t seem to be as bad. Hmmm.

I thought it may have had something to do with him just being a bit hot (he can snake his neck around when he’s feeling fresh) or the fact that he is usually worked in the late afternoon when all the best little airborne bugs like to make an appearance. Twenty suckers to the eyeballs per second would annoy me too.





That being said, two weeks on and this doesn’t seem to have abated regardless of the level of work he is on the number of bugs in the air/time of day he is worked.

Having stumbled across this list of potential signs, I feel like the odds are in the head shaking camp. Green represents the signs I have observed so far:

  • Occasional head toss, episodes of intense head shaking or constant head shaking
  • Vigorous, violent head shaking at any time, even while eating
  • Striking the air during trotting, getting very light in front – This is a big one
  • Flipping the head up and down – also a big one
  • Rubbing the nose and muzzle on front leg, gates, walls and fences – big one
  • Head up with a tilt, stiffness in neck
  • Choppy front leg movements
  • Head may be moved up and down, side-to-side or even in a rotary fashion – oh yes
  • May show pain when touched at the base of the ears – spot on Bevan
  • Ear- shaking progressing to head flicking then involving the neck, chest and forelimbs, with abrupt stopping and biting (not rubbing his nose) behind the knee – one foreleg may be worse than the other – to be honest I don’t know what this one is actually explaining, so maybe.
  • Snatching of the front legs up to the belly as if trying to knock a fly off – very good chance that this could be due to an actual fly
  • Teeth grinding
  • Droopy nostril, occasional muscle twitch and standing with back legs crossed
  • No head shaking, but getting angry and slinging the head
  • Tense upper eyelids drawn upwards, corners of mouth drawn back, nostrils flared. – yes, at times… but is this not every horse ever when they’re uncomfortable/unhappy?
  • Head and neck waving during daylight hours
  • May frequently rest head against objects –loves to rest his head against the tie up pole 
  • Can have frequent sneezing, unhappy face, ears held down
  • May occur only while being ridden
  • May get worse as exercise session progresses
  • May occur only in sunlight
  • May be seasonal
  • May occur only with poll flexion
  • Eye injuries may occur secondarily


I also see him giving the Flehmen response a lot when trotting and cantering which is not something he ever did before.

I also found this fun little article that says this:




Great. Thanks fat boi.

At least I can discount the issue being triggered by gear… he does this with absolutely nothing on his head at all. Not sure if I should be happy or sad about this…




Is this a deal breaker for me? No, absolutely not. There are plenty of horses out there with this condition that get about life just fine. And even though the list shows a wide range of the clinical headshaking signs it isn’t a constant 24/7 irritation like in some cases.

That being said, it has made me quite sad (and slightly frustrated) because his behaviour is coming along in such big leaps and bounds, but he just seems so angry when this starts happening. And who can blame him? It sounds shit!

I have borrowed a nose net to see if there is any relief for him there, but if you have dealt with a head shaker then please… talk to me.

What have you done to help manage?

  • Exercise
  • Nutrition
  • Tack
  • Whatever


I want to hear from you.

Join the Conversation


  1. At the American Eventing Championships, there was a horse competing that had to wear a nose net. They had a letter from their vet explaining the medical necessity of the nose net, and we experienced ZERO head shaking during his test. After, the woman’s trainer came up with the letter, and she explained that, without it, he would be constantly tossing his head.

    I rode a hunter with head tossing syndrome. His was worse outside during the day, but was better in the indoor or in the evening. If you can find a solution that works for him, it’s more an annoyance (like cribbing) than a huge deal, in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There doesn’t seem to be much definitive evidence on the hows/whys of it. It’s predominantly seasonal which lines up with peak head shaking time here in AUS with spring starting. He really wasn’t in work this time last year so it may not be the first time it has happened, but he has also moved agistment places so could be grass related too.

      No idea though


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