Headshaking Syndrome in Horses - Causes and Treatment

Headshaking syndrome is a compulsive disorder in horses comprised of a series of motor tics that repeat over and over. It requires psychological treatment.
Headshaking Syndrome in Horses - Causes and Treatment

Last update: 19 July, 2020

Headshaking syndrome in horses is a behavioral disorder that appears as a series of motor tics. Today we’d like to tell you about this condition, including how to treat it. Stick around to find out more about it.

What’s headshaking syndrome in horses?

The reflex movements that horses often make are a series of repetitive sways of the head, neck, and sometimes even the hind limbs. Horses develop many compulsive attitudes, so we couldn’t say these types of motor tics are exactly a disease.


The causes of headshaking syndrome in horses are usually psychological. It doesn’t mean they have a muscular disease, although it might be the case. There’s always a cause behind the motor tics we’re talking about here.

A horse in a field.

It might be that the horse is bored as they probably spend too much time alone in their stable. Perhaps they lost a companion, another horse, or maybe it was a human. Stress, nervousness, and anxiety are the main reasons why we could begin to perceive this condition in horses, no doubt.


Like all psychological disorders, headshaking syndrome in horses will clearly reveal the following symptoms:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Decreased energy (caused by the previous symptom)
  • Social isolation
  • Sadness

Horses with headshaking syndrome tend to isolate themselves and therefore become sad. This is ironic because, in many cases, this isolation is the cause of their motor tic. Also, this disorder is contagious, so if there are several horses in a block and one is shaking its head, then the rest will soon learn to do it.

So, it’s essential that you take immediate measures so it doesn’t go “viral” and spread among the other animals on your block. Do it as soon as you notice any of the above symptoms or if you believe your horse is getting sad and depressed.

Treatment of headshaking syndrome in horses

This kind of motor tic is a sort of addiction so you must be aware that it’ll be hard to eradicate. However, there are some things you can try in order to correct it:

A woman at a rodeo.

  • Take them for a ride. As one of the main causes of headshaking syndrome in horses is stress, exercise can be beneficial in eliminating it. Taking the animal out will allow it to release steam, adrenaline, and even toxins. All of it will improve their mood and help them relax.
  • Take them out for a walk. Taking a relaxing walk outdoors will reduce the animal’s anxiety. It seems obvious but some people aren’t aware that horses also enjoying nature. Don’t ride it this time, just put a leash on them and walk along at a relaxed pace.
  • Keep them company. No one knows your horse better than you. So if you think the cause of their motor tics is loneliness, then find them a companion — be it another horse or even a sheep. This is because horses get along really well with these animals. The point here is to give them some company. You’ll see changes sooner than you’d think.

Final notes

It’s possible that other horses are rejecting the depressed animal for some reason unbeknownst to you. So if you think their isolation is due to this then try moving them to a different group.

Give them things to do. Place balls and other objects around so they can play with them. We can assure you they won’t ignore them if you place them there.

For instance, hang a ball by the door or place it in the center of the stable gate. It’ll help the animal focus their attention on it and keep them from shaking their head.

This is all we have on the subject of headshaking syndrome on horses. We hope our tips have been helpful to you.

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