Why Do Horses Jerk Their Heads?

Horses jerking their heads can be attributed to a variety of reasons, and understanding these behaviors is crucial for their well-being. One common cause is discomfort or pain, which can lead to head tossing or shaking. Additionally, horses may exhibit head jerking as a response to stress or anxiety. Poorly fitting tack or improper training techniques can also contribute to this behavior. To address head jerking, it’s important to identify and address the underlying cause, providing appropriate care, training, and management for the horse.

why do horses jerk their heads

Common Causes of Head Jerking in Horses

Head jerking is a common problem observed in horses and can be a cause of concern for horse owners. This article will explore some of the common causes of head jerking in horses, helping you better understand and address this issue.

1. Dental Problems

Poor dental health can lead to head jerking in horses. Issues such as sharp edges on teeth, dental infections, or tooth decay can cause discomfort and pain, which may manifest as head jerking. Regular dental check-ups and maintenance are crucial to ensure proper oral health and prevent head jerking.

2. Ill-Fitting Tack

Improperly fitted tack, such as bridles, bits, or nosebands, can also contribute to head jerking in horses. Ill-fitting equipment can cause discomfort, pinching, or rubbing, leading to the horse’s discomfort and subsequent head jerking. It is essential to ensure that the tack fits correctly and does not cause any discomfort to the horse.

3. Musculoskeletal Issues

Problems in the musculoskeletal system, such as neck or back pain, can result in head jerking in horses. Conditions like arthritis, muscle tension, or injuries can cause discomfort and involuntary movements of the head. Consultation with a veterinarian and appropriate treatment or therapy can help alleviate the pain and reduce head jerking.

4. Neurological Disorders

Some horses may experience head jerking as a result of neurological disorders. Conditions like cervical vertebral malformation (Wobbler syndrome), equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM), or headshaking syndrome can cause involuntary movements of the head. Accurate diagnosis and appropriate veterinary care are necessary to manage these neurological conditions.

5. Behavioral Issues

Head jerking in horses can also stem from behavioral issues. Stress, anxiety, fear, or frustration can manifest as head jerking. Identifying and addressing the underlying cause of the behavior, such as environmental changes, training methods, or social interactions, can help resolve the issue.

6. Eye Problems

Eye problems, such as irritation, infections, or vision impairments, can cause head jerking in horses. Discomfort or pain in the eyes can lead to involuntary movements of the head as the horse tries to alleviate the discomfort. Regular eye examinations and prompt treatment of any eye-related issues are necessary to prevent head jerking.

7. Allergies or Sensitivities

Sensitivity or allergies to certain substances, such as pollen, dust, or insects, can cause horses to jerk their heads. The discomfort caused by these allergens can result in involuntary movements as the horse tries to alleviate the irritation. Identifying and managing the allergens can help minimize head jerking episodes.

8. Medical Conditions

Underlying medical conditions, such as pain or discomfort in other areas of the body, can also manifest as head jerking in horses. Issues like gastric ulcers, lameness, or internal organ problems can cause referred pain and involuntary movements of the head. Proper veterinary diagnosis and treatment are essential to address the underlying medical condition and reduce head jerking.

In summary, head jerking in horses can have various causes, including dental problems, ill-fitting tack, musculoskeletal issues, neurological disorders, behavioral issues, eye problems, allergies or sensitivities, and underlying medical conditions. It is crucial to work closely with a veterinarian to accurately diagnose the cause and develop a comprehensive treatment plan to alleviate the discomfort and reduce head jerking episodes in horses.

Tips for Managing and Minimizing Head Jerking in Horses

Head jerking in horses can be a frustrating and challenging problem for horse owners to manage. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including pain, discomfort, anxiety, or behavioral issues. In this section, we will discuss some tips and strategies for managing and minimizing head jerking in horses.

1. Identify the Underlying Cause

The first step in managing head jerking in horses is to identify the underlying cause. This can often be done through a thorough veterinary examination and consultation. The veterinarian may perform a physical examination, evaluate the horse’s dental health, and possibly recommend further diagnostic tests such as X-rays or blood work. Identifying the cause of the head jerking can help determine the most appropriate treatment plan.

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2. Address Any Pain or Discomfort

Head jerking can sometimes be a manifestation of pain or discomfort. If this is the case, it is important to address the underlying issue in order to alleviate the head jerking. This may involve treating any dental issues, joint problems, or other sources of pain. Your veterinarian may prescribe medication or recommend alternative therapies such as acupuncture or chiropractic treatments to help manage the pain and reduce head jerking.

3. Evaluate Bridle and Bit Fit

Improperly fitted bridles or bits can contribute to head jerking in horses. It is important to ensure that the bridle and bit are properly fitted and correctly adjusted for the individual horse. The bit should be the correct size and shape for the horse’s mouth, and the bridle should be adjusted so that it is neither too tight nor too loose. Consulting with an experienced trainer or equine professional can help ensure that the equipment is properly fitted and suited to the horse’s needs.

4. Incorporate Desensitization and Training

Desensitization and training exercises can help reduce head jerking in horses by teaching them alternative behaviors and responses to stress or discomfort. Introducing the horse to various stimuli in a controlled and gradual manner can help reduce anxiety and improve overall behavior. This can be done through desensitization exercises such as introducing the horse to different objects, sounds, or situations. Additionally, implementing a consistent and structured training program can help establish clear communication and boundaries with the horse, reducing the likelihood of head jerking.

5. Consider Behavioral Modification Techniques

If head jerking in horses is primarily a behavioral issue, it may be necessary to employ specific behavioral modification techniques. This can include positive reinforcement training methods, such as clicker training, to reward desired behaviors and discourage head jerking. Working with a professional horse trainer or behaviorist who specializes in positive reinforcement techniques can be beneficial in addressing behavioral issues and creating a training plan tailored to the individual horse’s needs.

6. Create a Calm and Stress-Free Environment

Creating a calm and stress-free environment for your horse can also help minimize head jerking. Horses are sensitive animals, and they can easily become anxious or stressed in certain situations. Providing a quiet and comfortable living space, ensuring a consistent routine, and minimizing exposure to stressful stimuli can all contribute to a more relaxed and content horse. Additionally, incorporating regular turnout and allowing for social interaction with other horses can help alleviate stress and reduce the likelihood of head jerking.

In summary, managing and minimizing head jerking in horses requires a thorough understanding of the underlying cause and a multi-faceted approach. By identifying the cause, addressing pain or discomfort, evaluating equipment fit, incorporating desensitization and training, employing behavioral modification techniques, and creating a calm environment, horse owners can effectively manage and reduce head jerking in their horses. If the problem persists or worsens, it is important to consult with a veterinarian or equine professional for further guidance and assistance.

Training Techniques to Reduce Head Jerking in Horses

Head jerking in horses can be a frustrating and potentially dangerous behavior. It can make riding uncomfortable for both the rider and the horse, and can even lead to accidents and injuries. Fortunately, there are several training techniques that can be used to address and reduce head jerking in horses. In this section, we will explore some of these techniques in detail.

1. Establishing a Calm and Respectful Relationship

The first step in addressing head jerking in horses is to establish a calm and respectful relationship with your horse. This involves building trust and mutual understanding through consistent and clear communication. Spend time bonding with your horse on the ground, practicing basic ground manners, and building a foundation of respect and trust.

When riding, focus on maintaining a relaxed and balanced seat, using light and consistent rein aids, and rewarding your horse for correct responses. By establishing a calm and respectful relationship, your horse will be more likely to listen and respond to your cues, reducing the likelihood of head jerking.

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2. Addressing Physical Discomfort

In some cases, head jerking in horses may be a result of physical discomfort or pain. It is important to rule out any underlying medical conditions or physical issues that may be causing or contributing to the behavior. Consult with a veterinarian or equine professional to evaluate your horse’s overall health and well-being.

If physical discomfort is identified as a contributing factor, work with your veterinarian or equine therapist to develop a treatment plan. This may include addressing any underlying medical conditions, providing appropriate pain management, or implementing alternative therapies such as chiropractic adjustments or acupuncture.

3. Desensitization and Gradual Exposure

Head jerking in horses can sometimes be a result of fear or anxiety. It is important to address and desensitize your horse to any triggers or situations that may be causing these negative emotions. Gradual exposure and positive reinforcement can be effective tools in this process.

Begin by identifying the specific triggers or situations that cause your horse to jerk their head. It could be related to certain objects, sounds, or environments. Once identified, gradually expose your horse to these triggers in a controlled and positive manner.

Start with a safe distance or minimal exposure, and reward your horse for calm behavior. Gradually increase the difficulty or intensity of the exposure as your horse becomes more comfortable and relaxed. This process helps your horse build confidence and overcome their fear or anxiety, reducing the likelihood of head jerking.

4. Reinforcement of Proper Head Carriage

Training your horse to carry their head in a proper and relaxed position can also help reduce head jerking. This involves teaching your horse to maintain a consistent and balanced head carriage, without excessive tension or resistance.

Use exercises and techniques such as flexion and lateral work to encourage your horse to soften and relax their neck and jaw muscles. Reward your horse for correct head carriage and release of tension, and consistently reinforce this behavior during your training sessions.

5. Consistent and Progressive Training

Consistency and progression are key in reducing head jerking in horses. Develop a structured training plan that includes regular and consistent sessions, focusing on building upon previous achievements.

Ensure that your training sessions are varied and engaging, incorporating a mix of exercises and activities that challenge your horse both mentally and physically. Gradually increase the difficulty and duration of the exercises as your horse improves.

Monitor your horse’s progress closely and make any necessary adjustments to your training plan. Celebrate small victories and be patient with the process, as it may take time and consistent effort to achieve lasting results.

In summary, head jerking in horses can be effectively addressed and reduced through a combination of training techniques. By establishing a calm and respectful relationship, addressing physical discomfort, desensitizing to triggers, reinforcing proper head carriage, and maintaining consistent and progressive training, you can help your horse overcome this behavior and enjoy a more comfortable and enjoyable riding experience.

Seeking Professional Help for Persistent Head Jerking in Horses

If you notice that your horse is frequently and persistently jerking its head, it is important to seek professional help to address this issue. Head jerking in horses can be a sign of an underlying problem or discomfort that requires immediate attention. In this section, we will discuss the reasons why horses may exhibit head jerking behavior and how to find the right professional to help diagnose and treat the issue.

1. Causes of Head Jerking in Horses

Head jerking in horses can be caused by various factors, including:

  • Pain or discomfort: A horse may jerk its head in response to neck, back, or dental pain, among other health issues.
  • Tack-related issues: Ill-fitting bridles, bits, or other equipment can cause discomfort, leading to head jerking behavior.
  • Neurological problems: Conditions such as headshaking syndrome or facial nerve paralysis can result in involuntary head movements.
  • Behavioral issues: Some horses may develop head jerking habits due to stress, anxiety, or boredom.

2. Finding the Right Professional

When dealing with persistent head jerking in your horse, it is essential to seek help from a qualified professional, such as:

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  • Equine Veterinarian: A veterinarian specializing in equine health can perform a thorough examination to rule out any underlying medical conditions contributing to the head jerking behavior.
  • Equine Dentist: Dental issues can cause discomfort and lead to head jerking. An equine dentist can evaluate and address any dental problems that may be contributing to the issue.
  • Equine Chiropractor: An equine chiropractor can assess your horse’s musculoskeletal system and address any misalignments or imbalances that may be causing pain or discomfort.
  • Equine Behaviorist: If the head jerking appears to be behavioral in nature, an equine behaviorist can help identify the underlying causes and develop a plan to modify the behavior.

It is crucial to choose professionals who have experience working with horses and a proven track record in diagnosing and treating head jerking issues. Recommendations from other horse owners or trainers can be valuable in finding the right professionals for your horse.

3. The Diagnostic Process

Once you have selected the appropriate professionals, they will conduct a comprehensive evaluation to diagnose the cause of the head jerking behavior. This may include:

  • Physical examination: The veterinarian will assess your horse’s overall health, looking for any signs of pain or discomfort.
  • Neurological evaluation: If a neurological condition is suspected, your horse may undergo specific tests to assess nerve function and determine the extent of the problem.
  • Behavioral assessment: An equine behaviorist may observe your horse’s behavior in different situations to identify triggers and patterns related to the head jerking.
  • Dental examination: An equine dentist will examine your horse’s teeth and mouth to check for any dental issues that could be causing discomfort.

4. Treatment Options

The treatment for head jerking in horses will depend on the underlying cause identified during the diagnostic process. It may include:

  • Medical interventions: If a medical condition is found, appropriate medication or treatment will be prescribed to address the issue.
  • Management changes: Modifying the horse’s environment, diet, or exercise routine may help alleviate discomfort or reduce behavioral triggers.
  • Tack adjustments: Ensuring that the horse’s tack fits properly and is comfortable can help prevent discomfort and head jerking.
  • Behavior modification: If the head jerking is determined to be behavioral, a behaviorist can work with you to develop a training plan to modify the behavior gradually.

5. In Summary

Head jerking in horses should not be ignored, as it can indicate an underlying problem or discomfort that requires professional attention. By seeking help from qualified professionals and undergoing a thorough diagnostic process, you can identify the cause of the head jerking and implement appropriate treatment options. Remember to choose professionals with experience in equine health and behavior to ensure the best outcome for your horse’s well-being.


Why do horses jerk their heads?

Horses may jerk their heads due to a few reasons. It could be a sign of pain or discomfort, such as an issue with the bit or bridle. It can also indicate excitement or impatience. Observing the horse’s behavior and consulting with a veterinarian or trainer can help determine the underlying cause.


In conclusion, the jerking of horses’ heads is a common behavior that can have various causes. It can be a response to pain or discomfort, such as an ill-fitting bridle or dental issues. It may also occur due to poor training or rider imbalance, where the horse tries to evade pressure or communicate its discomfort. Additionally, horses may jerk their heads as a reaction to external stimuli like flies or an unfamiliar environment. Understanding the underlying reasons behind this behavior is crucial for horse owners and trainers to ensure the well-being and comfort of their equine companions.

By addressing any potential physical issues, providing proper training and handling, and creating a suitable environment, horse owners can help mitigate head jerking and promote a more relaxed and contented equine partner. Remember, seeking professional assistance from veterinarians, trainers, or equine behavior specialists can be invaluable in addressing and resolving any head jerking issues in horses.