Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Head Tossing or Shaking, while Ridden

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

  • If you want to rule out any physical issue being a factor in the behavior.
  • If this problem seems severe and has come on suddenly.

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

  • If you want to rule out any physical issue being a factor in the behavior.
  • If you consider this a chronic and relatively mild problem that is not changing rapidly.

This is an inappropriate and sometimes dangerous behavior that should be resolved. It is a very different behavior than head shaking without the presence of tack and a rider.

Horses are often taught to shake, toss or bob their heads in the same way that they are taught to engage in many other unwanted behaviors. They perceive the behavior to be easier and more rewarding than alternative (desirable) behaviors. In many cases, there is a subtle release unknowingly being given to the horse when they engage in the behavior. If this can be reversed consistently, the behavior will disappear or change.

Like many other undesirable behaviors, head shaking can also be a response to pain or discomfort. A variety of physical problems may cause a horse to engage in this behavior including mouth problems (irritating wolf tooth, mouth wound, a snaffle that pinches the corner of the mouth), ill-fitting tack, or lameness due to undiagnosed injury.

WHAT TO DO

Assess the horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to the back, jaw, throat and neck. Do you notice swelling or sensitivity here? Assess as well as you can for lameness. Check the corners of the mouth for sores. Assess fit of bridle, bit and saddle.

WHAT YOUR VET DOES

Your vet can help you determine whether this behavior is a result of physical pain. They may want to assess your tack and watch the behavior with you riding the horse. They will check the mouth and perform a general physical exam. If a physical cause is ruled out, look to yourself, your own riding technique and others who have handled your horse as both the cause of the problem and the solution. Engage a trainer who knows how to stop this behavior. Learn why it developed, and avoid or correct the same stimuli in the future.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

CONTACT US

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Sending