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Head Shaking in Horses

Updated on June 10, 2011

Hope for Head Shakers

Head shaking (head-shaking or headshaking) is a distressing condition, that generally renders affected horses unrideable. Horses that head shake are suffering quite severe distress; it is not 'bad behaviour'. There was a time, hopefully now outdated but quite recent, when such horses were brutalised by having the nerves in their faces cut (neurectomy). I had the misfortune to see such horses with their denerved muzzles caked with food and I even saw one hung up on a barbed wire fence by his denerved muzzle, causing horrendous injury. When you consider what a sensitive instrument the horse's muzzle is and how it is integral to his normal behaviour, it is amazing to think that this sort of barbarism was ever contemplated.

Head shaking is not a 'behavioural' problem and something has to be tried, to alleviate the condition. Happily, homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic and aromatherapy, properly integrated, carry an approximately 75 - 80% success rate.

N.B.: A nose veil is very effective in most cases, for relieving symptoms. However, not every horse can tolerate one and some sporting activities disallow the use of a nose veil. While you are seeking a cure, the use of a nose veil can be a welcome welfare consideration for your horse.

Common triggers for headshaking episodes

In our experience, there appears to be a wide variety of triggers for headshaking episodes in horses. Some will do it when approaching a cloud of midges on a track. Some will do it in response to raindrops or snowflakes landing on their faces, some will be triggered by bright sunlight, whereas others may be triggered by pollen allergy. We have even seen some cases triggered by painful saddling and by neck arthritis. Diet can play a part in some cases. One case recently seen responded adversely to the brow band and nose band of the bridle.

Acupuncture horse headshaking
Acupuncture horse headshaking

Natural medicine treatment

ACUPUNCTURE - HOMEOPATHY - HERBS - DIET - CHIROPRACTIC - AROMATHERAPY - MASSAGE

Head shaking horses (head shakers, headshakers or head-shakers) can be treated with combined and properly-integrated homeopathy, acupuncture, massage and aromatherapy, with a reasonable chance of success or very good control. 75 - 80% of affected horses can return to being rideable. Of course, because such therapies are holistic in nature, chiropractic manipulation, diet and lifestyle must also be addressed, for each patient.

The accompanying images show a horse in deep relaxation, during acupuncture treatment.

The reason that this success rate is not higher is, in my belief, because there is such a variety of ways in which different patients manifest their problems. Different horses appear to react to different triggers, e.g. different pollens, rape fields, flies, snow flakes, rain drops, direct sunlight, dust and ammonia (shavings are not good bedding material, for this reason). Some horses may be responding to neck pain. Some may be triggered by saddling faults, by bitting, by nose band, by brow band or by other bridle design features. Almost all appear to be triggered or worsened with exercise or work. Some are found to be 'high' suffers and some 'low', depending upon findings at examination. This tends to refer to whether the frontal sinuses or maxillary sinuses are the main site of the problem. This immense variation in every aspect of the condition makes it difficult to tie down.

Some horses seem to respond favourably to being ridden with a muzzle, but that is not acceptable for dressage competition and certainly cannot pass for a lasting solution.

Each patient that is seen by the AVMC is given facial realignment (equine chiropractic), massage, acupuncture if there are indications for this (i.e. 'active' points), aromatherapy if there are indications, homeopathic medication, aromatherapy and sinus drainage. In the case of the latter, some patients drain huge quantities of watery mucus, in response. Teeth, saddling, neck and back assessment are also vital components of examination and treatment. This necessitates a truly holistic and exhaustive approach to assessment and treatment.

If you have a head shaker, it is neither wise nor humane to 'ride him through it'. That approach will tend to reinforce the reaction and deepen the memorised psychological component, which inevitably accompanies such a distressing problem. Furthermore, the horse is suffering when showing these signs and should not be further stressed.

Acupuncture

Homeopathy

Herbs

Chiropractic

Acupuncture headshaker - relaxation
Acupuncture headshaker - relaxation

Diet

We recommend a species-suitable natural diet for all our patients. Helpful advice may be found at Natural Feeding website - information only

We have found it to be very important to remove all manufactured feeds and supplements from the diet, as the horse owner has no control over such products. Unsuitable ingredients are included in most proprietary horse feeds and supplements, resulting in the horse having reduced healing and re-balancing capability.

Summary

Headshaking horses are suffering, they are not just misbehaving.

Headshaking may have a great variety of causes and triggers, including neck pain and allergy.

A good proportion of cases can be controlled using an integrated alternative medicine and holistic medicine approach, including homeopathy, acupuncture, aromatherapy, chiropractic and natural feeding. A combined acupuncture vet/homeopathic vet/herbal vet should be able to outline your options.

The author is independent of commercial interest or sponsorship and cannot endorse any products or advertising material attached to this lens.

For more information, visit AVMC's information website (over 600 pages).

Chris Day - holistic vet - runs the Alternative Veterinary Medicine Centre in Oxfordshire (AVMC) in Oxfordshire, UK.

Note

Headshaking is distressing and worse. While we are sad that we currently do not succeed in every case, we are glad that relief for many can be found.

This lens is now adorned with a Purple Star. It's amazing when one of these things suddenly turns up out of nowhere. I am deeply grateful to all who had a part in engineering this lovely surprise.

Horse dozing
Horse dozing

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    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @pixiepot: Thanks so much!

    • profile image

      pixiepot 6 years ago

      Amazing lens, congrats on the Purple Star

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @kimmanleyort: Thanks so much for the encouraging remarks and of course, thanks so much for that Blessing - you're an angel!

    • profile image

      kimmanleyort 6 years ago

      Very worthy of your purple star. Thanks for providing such useful and important information about horses. You are doing a great service. * Blessed *

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @Diana Wenzel: That is very hard - what's the issue with the wild horse? [may be best to reply on my 'bio' page].

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 6 years ago from Colorado

      Really appreciated this information. It breaks my heart to think of how some horses have suffered needlessly due to lack of knowledge on the part of owners or trainers. Thanks for being such a wonderful advocate for all animals. I wish you were here in my world. I see one of the wild horses here having some issues and hope I can get someone out to take a look at him. It makes me hurt to see an animal suffering. I can't bear it.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @Bercton1: Yes, indeed, horses are worthy of your admiration.

    • Bercton1 profile image

      Bercton1 6 years ago

      Thanks for sharing information on horse. I admire this animal.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @RuthCoffee: You and me both. Thanks for visiting and supporting.

    • RuthCoffee profile image

      RuthCoffee 6 years ago

      Well this certainly isn't common knowledge, but then that's why it's so useful. It makes me cringe to think about people harming or "punishing" a horse because they don't understand this behavior.

    • blessedmomto7 profile image

      blessedmomto7 6 years ago

      I have never heard of this before. My daughter recently started riding horseback and we are learning much about them. Thanks for this informative lens.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @Chris-H LM: Good suggestion - I'll work on it - I could have taken one on Tuesday evening, had I thought.

    • Chris-H LM profile image

      Chris-H LM 6 years ago

      Sad, but I thank you.

      I love and admire horses, however I am not around them a lot.

      It would be helpful if you had a video which highlighted the condition so we could understand it better.

      Thank you for sharing this lens with us.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @anonymous: That Blessing is a wonderful surprise, thanks. You're an Angel!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I have never had a horse or much training with them, so I don't know about all the things horse owners would know. This is interesting. I sure would love to have a horse. Blessed by Squid Angle Tipi.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @inkserotica: Thanks so much for that much-appreciated blessing - you're an angel!

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @sorana lm: Thanks so much.

    • profile image

      inkserotica 6 years ago

      A fluttering of ghostly angel wings have passed on by and sent blessings your way :)

    • sorana lm profile image

      sorana lm 6 years ago

      What an interesting lens. I had no idea about this condition. A very well deserved Purple lens.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @Krafick: Thank you so much for your encouragement and support.

    • Krafick profile image

      Krafick 6 years ago

      Very interesting. Congratulations on the purple star. Rafick

    • Poison kitty profile image

      Poison kitty 6 years ago

      My friend had a horse that suffered from this condition - she found that it happened most often when there was a medium to high pollen count, or there were a lot of midges around. She found that the best preventative in her case was anti-hystamine tablets in the feed and a mesh face mask for under the bridle and headcollar in the field. So keep trying to find things that work, because sometimes the simple solutions are best!

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @darciefrench lm: Your visit is much appreciated and your comment is most kind. It means a lot, thanks.

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 6 years ago

      Chris, the info you provide is thought provoking and you always provide a solution to the problems you prevent, including alternative health measures - in horses and other animals. You're a true guardian. Many thanks for all that you do.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @Light-in-me: Thanks so much for persisting. - it's lovely to see you here and thanks so much for the blessing - you're an angel!

    • profile image

      Light-in-me 6 years ago

      Hello Chris,

      I know I have been here before because I left a comment saying I had blessed it.

      But it does not show up that I blessed it so I will try again.

      I hope it sticks this time.

      Robin :)

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @ttsm197: My pleasure - thanks for participating.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @Lady Lorelei: Yes, it's very bad for them.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @mattseefood lm: You're welcome - thanks for visiting.

    • ttsm197 profile image

      ttsm197 6 years ago

      hey chris thanx for sharing unique info

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 6 years ago from Canada

      I had never heard of this condition before. How very sad for those afflicted.

    • mattseefood lm profile image

      mattseefood lm 6 years ago

      Very informational! Thanks a lot :)

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @beckwong: Thanks - I really appreciate that.

    • beckwong profile image

      beckwong 6 years ago

      Interesting lens!

      you deserved the purple star, good job!

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @chrispell017: Thanks so much for your visit and encouragement.

    • profile image

      chrispell017 6 years ago

      awesome lens! very interesting.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @mivvy: That's a good idea - thanks.

    • mivvy profile image

      mivvy 6 years ago

      I'll pass this lens om to my sister who own a horse. I am sure she will find it interesting

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @hlkljgk: Yes, it still lives, despite corporate and concerted efforts to kill it off.

    • hlkljgk profile image

      hlkljgk 6 years ago from Western Mass

      love seeing alternative medicine used :)

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @WorldVisionary: Ah yes, it's that time again - lovely prospect. Thanks for visiting, commenting and for that lovely blessing - you're an angel!

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @anonymous: Thanks so much for your warm comment, on both counts.

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      WorldVisionary 6 years ago

      Great lens, and Happy April Fool's Day! Here's some Angel dust...

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Must say, excellent site on head shaking of horses! Also love/enjoyed your pictures!

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @junecampbell: Thanks - very kind of you to bother.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @kathysart: Thanks so much.

    • kathysart profile image

      kathysart 6 years ago

      Beautiful, well thought out lens.. thumbs UP!

    • junecampbell profile image

      June Campbell 6 years ago from North Vancouver, BC, Canada

      Congratulations on the well deserved purple star.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @anonymous: Thanks!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Congratulations for the purple star!

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @BlueStarling: Ok - I'm honoured.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @jackieb99: Yes, it is distressingly common.

    • BlueStarling profile image

      BlueStarling 6 years ago

      Great information. I had horses when I was a kid, but am not in the position to own a horse now (wish I were), but will pass your lens on to my nieces who do have horses and who care a great deal about their proper care.

    • jackieb99 profile image

      jackieb99 6 years ago

      I've seen some horses doing this and always wondered why.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @kguru1979 lm: Thanks for visiting and contributing.

    • kguru1979 lm profile image

      kguru1979 lm 6 years ago

      Very new and good information about head shaking ... Nice .. thanks...!

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @Blackspaniel1: Thanks for the visit and support.

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image

      Blackspaniel1 6 years ago

      Nice lens

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @UKGhostwriter: Thanks!

    • UKGhostwriter profile image

      UKGhostwriter 6 years ago

      Excellent lens - got my thumbs up!

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @Dinostore: Thanks for your very positive and supportive comment.

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      Dinostore 6 years ago

      Your lenses are so unique and useful, thanks for sharing this! Thumbs up and fav'd.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @SandyMertens: Thanks so much for your valued support.

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 6 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      I learned something new. Thanks for sharing this.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @jvsper63: Thanks so much for your visit and encouragement.

    • jvsper63 profile image

      jvsper63 6 years ago

      Well the success rate is sounds very hopeful. Glad that they are doing something about this.Really good Topic. Nice lens.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @globedancer: Yes, it's ghastly but it is done less often now than it was 5 or so years ago.

    • globedancer profile image

      globedancer 6 years ago

      Hi ChrisDay! I don't know much about horses and I'm sad that they cut nerves from these beautiful creatures.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @JeanJohnson LM: Yes, it's not widely known outside the 'horse world'. Good to see you here.

    • JeanJohnson LM profile image

      JeanJohnson LM 6 years ago

      I have never heard of this condition before, thanks for sharing.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @remanon: Thanks for your visit and contribution.

    • remanon profile image

      remanon 6 years ago

      Headshaking is distressing for horse and owner alike. A great lens offering advice - and hope - for those looking for solutions.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @LouisaDembul: Thanks, that's great - I'll go over and check.

    • LouisaDembul profile image

      LouisaDembul 6 years ago

      How horrible that they cut the nerves in the muzzle! lensrolled this to my lens about protecting horses.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @DecoratingEvents: Thanks for coming along and supporting - good to see you. I hope the information you pass on helps a horse.

    • DecoratingEvents profile image

      DecoratingEvents 6 years ago

      I had no idea horse headshaking could mean something was wrong. Guess that's why you are the vet and not me! I am going to pass this along to a friend that is a horse lover!

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @Light-in-me: Thanks so much for the BLESSING - you're an angel!

    • profile image

      Light-in-me 6 years ago

      I hope this brings some awareness to this problem and how to treat it.

      Thanks for sharing, blessed by a Squid Angel.

      Robin

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @Virginia Allain: Thanks.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @junecampbell: You're right, it most certainly is distressing.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 6 years ago from Central Florida

      This was most informative. I hope it helps many horse owners to better understand and seek the right treatment for the condition.

    • junecampbell profile image

      June Campbell 6 years ago from North Vancouver, BC, Canada

      I don't know a lot about horses, but this condition certainly sounds distressing. Thanks for bringing it to the public's attention.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @hayleylou lm: Thanks for the compliment!

    • hayleylou lm profile image

      hayleylou lm 6 years ago

      Well presented lens :)

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @anonymous: Yes, I think respect is the key to sorting out so many of the world's problems.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I was not aware of this problem before now. It's important that we give animals the same respect we would like to have ourselves when it comes to health problems as much as is possible.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @TreasuresBrenda: Perhaps they are not quite as complex in their diseases as we are - but 'man-made' problems . . . . .

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @anonymous: How beautifully put - yes to think denerving has been done by professionals.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Thank you for this informative lens. I hope it helps many horses and their owners find a much better alternative treatment than denerving! That would be like cutting off your fingers! It's nice to see the alternative therapies finally being made available to our animal friends and family.

    • TreasuresBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 6 years ago from Canada

      I don't know anything about horses but expect they can have a myriad of health problems just like we do. Great lens.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @dogodor: Thanks for the visit and positive comment.

    • dogodor profile image

      dogodor 6 years ago

      I grew up on a ranch. So horses is something I am very familiar with as it pertain to subject matter. And I can tell the visitors this guy knows his stuff. Thanks for the lens.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @anonymous: It's called 'shaking' but it's more of a violent 'flick'. The horse world is full of special terminology and jargon. Whatever we call it, it's horrid for them.

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      Very interesting to know what it means if the horse is shaking its head. Well, a new thing that I learnt today.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @sukkran trichy: Thanks for your visit and positive contribution

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 6 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      yes, really it is useful. learned a new thing from your lens. thanks for the info.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image
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      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      @anonymous: They are incredibly spiritual creatures and we often give them a pretty rough time.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Aww... that sounds so sad. I have never had a horse but like any kid, always wanted one.