HEAD SHAKING SYNDROME....A BITTED PHENOMENON.....
For anyone who has watched the awful effects of the distressing
behaviour of a horse displaying inexplicable head shaking.....my heart truly
goes out to you, as it's an intensely upsetting thing to witness a horse shake
and shake his/her head for no reason that can be seen.... and for those rare few
that have never seen this-it's like the horse has an imaginary fly in their ear and
are trying to shake it out…..and they just continue to head shake …… and
they just don't stop.
Once it starts its very hard to stop and then often happens for every ride, and I have sadly heard and seen of too
many horses being put to sleep too many times due to this so called
Typically the horse cannot concentrate when they are headshaking, and will often rub their head on their legs amongst showing many other distressing symptoms, both physical and mentally that effects them, which we have monitored in our research
to include: having an extremely elevated heart rate, increased adrenalin, rearing, bucking and runaway flight reactions, the inability for
previously calm and well-schooled horses to think clearly, often culminating to
displaced behaviours including severe fear reactions of bolting,
aggression, biting, kicking and then on the other spectrum of emotional
helplessness of the horse from partial
shutting down to complete catatonia, as well as displays of learned
helplessness, all of which can be very dangerous to both horse and
human....especially if it culminates into a fall for the rider and/or the
horse, as is sadly often the case. Horse lovers the world over have employed an array of equine
professionals, of every discipline and type, in order to try to address this
terrible "syndrome “ as to return their well-loved equine partners back to their
previously excellent selves including : vets, dentists, physiotherapist,
chiropractors, nutritionist, expert trainers and behavioural specialist
etc.....but sadly most to no ends......as the horse continues this behaviour in response to his perceived negative
stimuli, and sadly even when that is taken away it has now become a negative parroting
behaviour …..Like a nervous twitch in humans. ….but with much more dire
consequences for the horse with his life on the life due to this.
And yet often the most plausible reason for 99.9% of all
horses to behave this way is right there in front of us....for all to
see…………but sadly we are so pre-programmed to think of the horse in domestication
in a certain pre-conceived way, that we can rarely see what is right in front
of our eyes…..
Which a lot of you riders won’t like but it is “THE BIT”.....
Whether that be a rubber BIT, a metal BIT, or a BIT made
from a mixture of the two, and no matter how “good” the riders hands are or
how “gentle” the particular BIT that is used is....as to have a human steering a horse through leverage through the soft palate and his thin and delicate gum line, which is often referred to as the bars of the mouth -with a metal or
rubber bar does cause issues!
And I am not blaming anyone here folks, so if you are a BITTED rider please don't take this as an attack, as this article is designed to be educational as to be
the voice of the horse.….so this is not passed on with malice…...and yes I have also
ridden with bits in the past too, and know not one of you would intentionally
hurt any of your beloved horses by the use of a BIT………. and that you’re only doing what humans have done for the past 4000
years or so, also innocently believing the BIT to be ok…….
But we have much more
research at our disposal now in this scientific age, as to actually study the
damage these BITS do …..And sadly the facts are showing us that headshaking is an
effect of BITTED horses.
What I have researched over many years, in my capacity as an
Equine Behaviourist, is that not one single wild or feral horse has ever
displayed head shaking syndrome, FULL STOP!
In fact nor is it common for any un-bitted horses, to ever display
this sort of behaviour EITHER.
And after nearly a decade of research into this field it is
quite clear that this is purely a bitted horse phenomenon….
So the question is why?
Well let’s just talk about the physiology of the horse’s
mouth first and then we’ll get to his emotions…..the skin over the bars of his
mouth, where the BIT is placed, are so ridiculously paper-thin at just 2mm
thick, that there is absolutely zero protection for the bone and nerves to be
away from the pressure of the BIT, and even at rest with no reins attached, the
BIT is still leaning on this thin area and therefore causing damage, plus as BITS are designed to work as a lever, they can therefore can create much
greater force than the human is physically capable of without this lever in
place, so even with the very best trained hands of say an Olympian rider, a huge force is still being exerted onto this
region which causes a host of problems for the horse, including facial neuralgia,
bone spurs, damage to the soft palate area amongst may other factors created by
just having the BIT in a horse’s mouth which for one restricts oxygen supply , causing
breathing and swallowing problems, over production of salvation that can cause
very serious issues in the digestive system including ulcers-through the over
production of acids in the gut as with the BIT in the mouth the horses brains tells
him to eat………..and therefore to produce saliva, and you only have to look at
any top level dressage horse to see this excessive salivation taking place…… But let’s talk about the emotional breakdowns in horses who
cannot cope with the threat and fear of pain from the BIT….and please remember,
just as with humans, a perceived threat causes the same physiological issues as
a real threat as the body does not know the difference….so because discomfort
and pain has been caused by the BIT previously then the horses body will remember
that as well as his mind so he not only reacts to the pain but also to fear of
threat of the pain too. as well as being levered up into the soft palate of the mouth every time the rider moves their hands…and that happens even when a horse is ridden by a person with the highly skilled hands of a neuro surgeon. ……..and more importantly …..this leads to PAIN and discomfort for our beloved equines, as is being shown with head shaking, which is a reaction to the BIT on the nerve endings......and even when the bit is removed it has then becomes a displaced behaviour through repeat neurological programming to the painful perceived threat of that stimulus as explained earlier. I know that bitted supporters out there will have be disappointed and may debate this information, and I am also aware that a Bitless bridle can also cause damage if used
aggressively…….but I have never witnessed displaced behaviours in horses ridden bitless to the same severe degrees as mentioned
by a BIT.
What’s interesting to me in my field of research is that I
have many horses in my care, or my clients and students care that have never
being ridden in a bit….ever….and not one of these has ever displayed head
shaking syndrome……which is food for thought hey?
As always this article was designed to ask you to try to see
life from the horse’s point of view as to make the world a better place for all
our horses J
Keep It Truly Natural
Tracy from www.naturalhorse.co.nz