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Why do horses shake their heads?

What triggers a horse to flip his head uncontrollably, sometimes to the point of endangering him and his rider?

The amazing thing about horses is how such large, powerful animals can be so sensitive and aware of the slightest sensation, such as a fly on its back or face. Rippling of skin or an occasional head shake is a normal response to the tickling trigger of nerve endings. But, there are times when a horse can’t stop shaking or tossing its head to a seemingly in-apparent sensation; such incessant behaviour is known as head shaking.

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How to stop being nervous when showing your horse

I travelled to this lovely lady the other day to give her a riding lesson. She was so nice. She had been working with her horse at home for quite a few years, she was a lovely rider, had a handy horse and do you know she had never competed at a show? As we were going through the lesson, I asked her why she had not shown as yet, her answer was sad to me, “fear” was her answer. Not fear of getting bucked off or fear of having a crash on the way but fear of looking silly if she mucked up! That was indeed sad to hear especially when her dream was to show one day. The only thing stopping her was fear of mucking up.

It’s not a “given” that if you own a horse you must show it, however, when you want to get out and show but you can’t due to fear of mucking up or letting nerves get the better of you that’s kind of sad. After all, it’s meant to be fun, it’s a hobby and don’t people take up hobbies because they’re fun to do?

Try this checklist

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Obsessive-compulsive habit in horses

This is an obsessive-compulsive habit in horses that is likely caused by boredom, stress, or possibly stomach acidity that can lead to equine ulcers. It is a behavioral disorder, and like any other harmful addiction, a cribber needs help controlling itself.

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Hives in horses

Many owners see those telltale bumps and attribute them to insect bites when, in reality, they’re hives—the end result of a complicated allergic response.

A case of hives also referred to as urticaria, can be frustrating for the horse, the owner and the treating veterinarian. Hives can show up minutes to hours to days after exposure to an inciting agent, may or may not be itchy and can appear nearly anywhere on a horse’s body.

Although hives are one way allergies can manifest in the horse, hives are not always caused by allergies. What makes hives particularly challenging is that many, many things can cause hives, such as insects, inhaled pollens, ingested foods, administered medications, direct contact with a wide variety of substances, and even hot or cold temperatures, pressure and exercise.

Though they can occur during any season, equine hives, or urticaria is a common problem with horses during the summer months. Hives present as circular bumps covering large areas of the body. They are sometimes accompanied by itching. Hives are a sign of disease, not a specific disease itself.

Sometimes contact with a substance or material such as a fly spray or bedding may cause hives. There are so many possibilities that finding the cause is often difficult. It is helpful to note if any product or care changes brought the hives on. Removing potential elements one at a time and waiting a minimum of 1 – 2 weeks to see a difference is a time consuming and unrewarding method of determination. For the one-time occurrence of hives, you might never discover the incriminating source. However, if hives recur, you might be motivated to track the allergen. Start by mentally reconstructing any changes in diet, environment, medications, vaccinations, or stress factors that occurred in recent months. Provide your veterinarian with a list of suspicious items or events. Another diagnostic technique, albeit expensive and time-consuming, uses intradermal allergy testing to try and isolate an allergic source from pollens (plants, bushes, and trees), molds, grasses, weeds, dust mites, insects, and farm plants. The horse should be pulled off medications (steroids or antihistamines) at least 10-30 days prior to testing.

Managing horses with hives includes:

Your first plan of attack should be to make the horse as comfortable as possible, which might require use of medications such as steroids and antihistamines, supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids and MSM, and a skin-care regimen such as cool rinses. Next, it is necessary to determine the initial cause of the hives. In some situations, skin eruptions can be linked to a recent deworming, antibiotic administration or similar event. This acute reaction may resolve on its own and, if the product is avoided in the future, might never return. In other situations, a horse will break out with no obvious changes in his lifestyle or management and improve as long as he receives dexamethasone or prednisone, only to have bumps and welts re-appear as soon as the medication is discontinued.

Nutting out the cause

Consider: Is it now bug season? Did you use a new bedding? Has the turnout program changed? Was the horse bathed with a new shampoo? Your veterinarian might suggest avoiding or reducing exposure to insects, fly spray, a certain brand of shavings, a specific grass lot or a brand of topical product while the horse’s skin recovers. Then, you may like to re-apply the possible cause of the hives under controlled circumstances by adding one possible cause at a time. If hives immediately recur, this process of elimination worked. If not, it will be necessary to cast a wider net and keep searching for the culprit, even if it requires keeping a daily journal of observations.

In addition, the vet may need to perform diagnostic tests such as skin scrapings, cultures, impression smears and biopsies to rule out conflicting skin conditions such as infections.

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Chewing on the bit

I had a someone contact me the other day with a question on chewing on the bit:

She was asking why her horse was chewing at the bit and whether she should go from the snaffle to a shank. I explained that I would lean toward the wolf teeth first before I would think about what sort of bit was being used.

Wolf teeth, not to be confused with Canine teeth – Canine teeth are usually found only in the mouths of male horses, including stallions and geldings. Also referred to as ‘tusks’, ‘tushes’ or ‘bridle teeth’, the lower canine teeth normally erupt at age four, with the upper canine teeth following at age five.

 Canine teeth appear in the mouth for the purpose of fighting — as stallions compete for mares during breeding season. However, they also play a role in chewing, whereas wolf teeth do not. Interestingly, canine teeth do appear in up to 20% of mares, but they are usually very small.

What to do if your horse has wolf teeth

It makes sense to remove these potentially troublesome teeth before you attempt any serious work with your young horse. You don’t want your horse to associate any discomfort or pain in his mouth with being worked. Horses can develop bad habits such chewing on the bit or head shaking, lunging their head and neck down toward the ground and twisting their heads through having long term pain, associating that pain with being ridden, creating anxiety in the horse which can go on for years before it is diagnosed as never having their wolf teeth extracted. These bad habits and anxiety can take a long time to retrain those bad habits out of the horses mind. Wolf teeth are on the bars of the mouth and where the bit may settle. For this reason alone, they may need to be removed.

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You, your horse and the heat

One thing about the Internet is that it brings people together from many different areas and climates. Riders down South are shivering in front of the fire through the winter months while they procrastinate going outside to work their horse if it would only stop raining! Riders as high up as F.N.Q., Central Australia, Darwin etc. Are wiping the sweat off their brows, swiping flies and loping circles in the dust.


Heat, humidity, bugs… I love summer!


Summer brings with it heat (and in many places, humidity), mosquitoes and other flying nasties, and ground baked to the consistency of concrete.

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How to Teach The Side Pass from the ground

Led Trail – Sidepass

Training a horse to side pass is beneficial for multiple reasons, whether it be improving groundwork, being able to open a gate while seated, or preparing for yearling/two year old led trail class. Fortunately the process of teaching a horse to side pass includes training a turn on the haunch and on the forehand, two other useful groundwork and riding techniques. Follow these steps, and you’ll improve not only your riding but your horse’s response and performance.

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Test your horse’s ability to move away from pressure. The natural instinct of your horse should be to move away from where pressure is applied – the same instinct humans have. Test this reaction in your horse by bumping them with an open palm near the girth where you would bump them with your calf. They should move away from your hand, possibly already in a side pass.

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Yearling Lunge line don’t let it take it’s toll on a young horses mind…

This event can have a bit of controversy to it as in most events. But with the lunge-line class, some people I’ve spoken with about it say it actually ruins prospects so I thought it an important topic to cover.If done properly, it can accomplish many things that people want in a good riding horse later on down the track. It can also be a good evaluation tool to help you observe your horse’s potential (or lack of) in the show pen by being able to see if he has a natural way of moving with a level top line, showing himself to be responsive to the handlers subtle cues. There is nothing better than watching a young lunge liner perform in his class with next to no visible cues from the handler.

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