Can horses get concussions?

Horses can experience trauma to the head — but can they get concussions? Take a look.

Yes, horses can get concussions from head trauma. Knowing what commonly leads to head injuries, and preventing them from happening in the first place, is key. I have seen a number of these injuries occur when horses pull back while tied and break the halter or rope. The horse then rears up, flips over backwards, and hits their head because of the pullback momentum. These injuries can be avoided if you always use a blocker tie ring or something similar that prevents the horse from breaking a halter/rope.

Trailering injuries are also common. Use the blocker tie ring in the trailer and never tie a horse even to a blocker ring until the doors/butt rope are secured. This prevents them from trying to back out of the trailer while tied, causing them to rear up and injure their head. The use of a head bumper is of utmost importance, even when trailering a “been there, done that” horse.

Lunging with side reins and dealing with behavioral/training issues on the lunge line or under saddle are other common culprits for rearing/flipping-induced head injuries. Avoid the use of fixed side reins, especially in a green horse or a rearer, and work with a trainer who can help you anticipate and avoid rearing behaviors.

With this said, injuries can happen even in the best of situations, and when they do, it is an emergency situation that most likely requires veterinary intervention. Symptoms of a concussion include confusion, poor coordination, dullness/ depression, bleeding from the nose or ears, circling, blindness, convulsions, or even death. Treatment is aimed at decreasing brain swelling (steroids, diuretics) and providing supportive care to allow time to heal.

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Hannah Mueller, DVM is a 2004 graduate of Oregon State University, College of Veterinary Medicine. She strives to provide the best care possible for her patients and believes her unique holistic approach allows her to do so. Dr. Hannah has a solid foundation in sports medicine and lameness. This, along with her training in acupuncture, chiropractic, stretch exercises, massage techniques and other hands on healing modalities, allows her to rehabilitate horses to their fullest potential.