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Why Do Horses Shake Their Heads Up And Down

Why Do Horses Shake Their Heads Up And Down

When observing horses, you may have noticed them shaking their heads up and down. This behavior can be intriguing and sometimes concerning for horse owners and enthusiasts. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind why horses shake their heads and what it signifies. By understanding the various causes and contexts of head shaking, we can better care for and communicate with these magnificent creatures.

The Natural Behavior of Horses

Horses are expressive animals that communicate through a combination of body language, vocalizations, and movements. Head shaking is one such behavior that horses exhibit for various reasons. It is important to note that not all head shaking is abnormal or indicative of a problem. In fact, some head shaking is completely normal and serves a purpose in their daily lives.

Here are some common reasons why horses shake their heads:

  • Shaking off flies and insects: Horses are highly sensitive to flies and other insects that can irritate their skin and eyes. Head shaking is a natural response to dislodge these pests and alleviate discomfort.
  • Stretching and relaxation: Similar to humans stretching their muscles, horses may shake their heads as part of their stretching routine. This behavior helps them loosen up their neck and jaw muscles, promoting relaxation and suppleness.
  • Expressing excitement or anticipation: Horses are known for their spirited nature, and head shaking can be a sign of excitement or anticipation. This behavior is often observed before a race or during playtime with other horses.

Abnormal Head Shaking

While some head shaking is normal, there are instances where it can indicate an underlying issue or discomfort. Abnormal head shaking is characterized by repetitive, excessive, or involuntary movements that are not related to the natural behaviors mentioned earlier. It is crucial to identify and address the cause of abnormal head shaking to ensure the well-being of the horse.

Here are some potential causes of abnormal head shaking:

  • Pain or discomfort: Head shaking can be a response to pain or discomfort in various parts of the horse’s body. This can include dental issues, ear infections, sinus problems, or even musculoskeletal conditions.
  • Allergies or respiratory issues: Horses can develop allergies or respiratory conditions that cause irritation and lead to head shaking. These conditions may be triggered by environmental factors such as dust, pollen, or mold.
  • Neurological disorders: In some cases, head shaking can be a symptom of neurological disorders such as headshaking syndrome or trigeminal-mediated headshaking. These conditions require veterinary attention and specialized treatment.

Addressing Abnormal Head Shaking

If you notice your horse exhibiting abnormal head shaking, it is essential to consult with a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause. The veterinarian will conduct a thorough examination, which may include dental checks, respiratory evaluations, and neurological assessments. Based on the findings, appropriate treatment options can be recommended.

Treatment for abnormal head shaking can vary depending on the cause. It may involve medication, dietary adjustments, environmental modifications, or specialized therapies. In some cases, a multidisciplinary approach involving veterinarians, equine dentists, and other specialists may be necessary to address the issue effectively.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. Can head shaking in horses be a sign of pain?

Yes, head shaking in horses can be a sign of pain or discomfort. It is important to monitor the behavior and consult with a veterinarian to identify and address any underlying issues.

2. How can I differentiate between normal and abnormal head shaking?

Normal head shaking is typically brief, occasional, and serves a purpose such as dislodging flies or stretching. Abnormal head shaking is repetitive, excessive, or involuntary, and may be accompanied by other signs of distress.

3. Are there any preventive measures to reduce head shaking?

Preventive measures for head shaking in horses include regular veterinary check-ups, proper dental care, maintaining a clean and dust-free environment, and managing allergies or respiratory conditions.

4. Can head shaking be a learned behavior?

Head shaking can sometimes be a learned behavior if the horse associates it with relief from discomfort or attention. However, it is crucial to rule out any underlying medical causes before assuming it is solely a learned behavior.

5. Is head shaking more common in certain breeds of horses?

While head shaking can occur in any breed of horse, certain breeds, such as Thoroughbreds and Arabians, may be more prone to certain conditions associated with head shaking, such as headshaking syndrome.

6. Can head shaking be managed or cured?

The management or cure of head shaking depends on the underlying cause. In some cases, effective management strategies can significantly reduce the frequency and severity of head shaking episodes. However, complete resolution may not always be possible.


Head shaking in horses can have both natural and abnormal causes. Understanding the reasons behind head shaking is crucial for horse owners and enthusiasts to ensure the well-being of their equine companions. While normal head shaking serves purposes such as dislodging flies or expressing excitement, abnormal head shaking may indicate pain, discomfort, allergies, or neurological disorders. Consulting with a veterinarian and implementing appropriate treatment options is essential for addressing abnormal head shaking and providing the best possible care for horses.