head shaking in horses

Call for Help! Head Shaking in Horses

Starting around this time last year (end of March), Splash developed headshaking.  For those not familiar, this article does a good job of explaining.  https://thehorse.com/14095/headshaking-in-horses/  The easiest way to describe it is the equivalent of a migraine in humans.  Something triggers the pain and different things affect different horses. Since I am running out of ideas, I figured I would compile all of my notes and information on what we’ve been trying and the results we’ve seen in hopes that maybe someone out there in the internet universe will be able to offer a solution!  Feel free to comment on this blog or email us at info@eatsleepriderepeat.com.

Background info

Splash is a 12 year old appaloosa mare.  I’ve owned her for 9 years. She started the headshaking in March of last year. She has been at three properties between then and today, all on outdoor board. Between all three properties, she has been fed a mix of round bales, small squares and large squares of hay. Prior to the headshaking starting, she was on indoor board for 4 years and on outdoor board before then (going back to when she was born).  She had been at the barn where she started headshaking for a year prior to the symptoms starting. She receives a grain feeding once a day (soaked beet pulp, loose white salt, and Brooks Fit and Fibre).

Splash’s primary discipline is endurance. She was competing in this for three years prior to the headshaking starting. Last year we cut back on the events we participated in and this did not seem to affect the head shaking.  After starting the headshaking in March, she successfully completed a 50 mile/80km endurance ride, where the symptoms were present for the first 40 miles and nothing in the last 10.  It did not seem to affect her heart rates as she pulsed down lower than I’ve ever seen her do before and there was no sign of soreness anywhere.

The symptoms that she shows is vertical head tossing (sometimes very violently; sometimes it just looks like a tic). It is different than her movement when she is irritated by bugs. She also blows her nose frequently and will rub her nose on her front right leg every time I dismount. On really bad days, she will try to do this while I’m riding. She doesn’t try to rub her nose on things in the paddock and she doesn’t have any scratches or marks that would indicate she’s rubbing on anything.

Situations where she does/does not head shake

I have seen her display symptoms when she’s out in the pasture on her own time (I can sit in my kitchen and see her so it’s not a product of me being around). She does it when you ride, lunge, or lead. Eating or loud noises do not trigger any symptoms. She does it when riding indoors or outdoors, sunrise, middle of the day, dusk, and after dark, in the rain, wind, and snow, by herself or with other horses. She will do it whether you have a halter on or not, whether I have a bit in her mouth (and different kinds of bits at that), whether it’s an English or western saddle or bareback. She does it at home, on the trail, off property.  That being said, there are times I’ve worked her in these situations and she ­doesn’t display symptoms.

I was in Kentucky for a week in September and she did not show symptoms the entire trip. I rode in an indoor arena, open fields, in the bush, in a dusty outdoor arena, in the morning, in the middle of the day. She was stalled for the entire duration of the stay except for when I took her out to work.


What I have tried with no success

-riding at all times of the day in different weather

-saddle fit and adjustment

-different tack and bits

-overall look over by numerous vets

-teeth checked and floated

-chiropractic work

-fly mask (long nose and ear covers)

-Guardian mask

-nose net

-Equiwinner patches

-magnesium supplementation – thought this was going to be the winner as Splash went quite a few weeks without symptoms but they came back. I am now combining it with spirulina as that has been shown to be effective.  We just started this combination treatment and will report on how that turns out.


What I have considered but have not tried

Cyproheptadine – while it does show quite a bit of efficacy, it is very expensive, comes with a number of side effects, and it tests.

Melatonin – needs to be given at 5pm every day to be most efficient, and that cannot always happen with my schedule

Acupuncture – next to try


I am open to any ideas you may have!! Leave us a comment below or email info@eatsleepriderepeat.com!





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