An increasing problem among horses and ponies is the common issue of head shaking. Head shaking is troublesome for both horse and rider, in part because of the ambiguity surrounding the condition. Little is known about the abnormal head shaking in equines, though there have been a number of recent studies devoted to the phenomenon. When researching the symptoms and diagnosis of head shaking, it is easy to become overwhelmed and confused due to conflicting data and incomplete information.
The established definition of head shaking, as described by veterinary literature, is “the sudden, intermittent and apparently involuntary tossing of the head,” reports the University of Lincoln website. Head shaking does not apply to typical behavior, such as a normal reaction a horse makes to shake off flies or whinnying before a race. Rather, head shaking is difficult to control and occurs without reason or cause. This can be dangerous to a rider because a horse cannot control their compulsion to shake, which scares the animal and can result in throwing horse and rider off balance.
The severity of the shaking varies. The movement is usually vertical, ranging from a small bobbing of the head to a large upwards and downwards sweeping of the head and neck. Horizontal swinging, flipping of the nose or upper lip and excessive snorting are also symptoms of head shaking. Other signs may be when a horse continually rubs their nose against their foreleg, a fence post or the ground. The horse may also become very protective of his muzzle, hiding its head against a wall or bush. Watering of the nose and eyes, swelling and hair loss resulting from constant rubbing and scratching are all evidences of a horse suffering from head shaking.
Many questions regarding head shaking are still unanswered, despite the recent surge in research. Whether it is a chronic condition is unknown, but according to an article published by Katy Taylor of De Montford University in Leicester, UK, the majority of studied horses revealed a seasonal pattern associated with head shaking. Symptoms seem to begin in the spring, when pollen allergies are prevalent, worsening over summer and improving into the autumn and winter months. Many veterinarians also report the likelihood of a behavioral component, with symptoms exacerbated when the horse is stressed, excited or nervous.
In a Lincoln University study, including a survey of over 200 head shakers, over 60% of owners reported using an herbal supplement to treat the perplexing condition. Of that number, over 40% stated a positive impact to their horse. Aloe vera is a viable treatment for head shaking, due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Commonly used to treat dermatological and external skin issues, aloe vera relieves and quickens the healing process of burns and wounds. Always seek the counsel of your veterinarian before using a new product.
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