Shivers in Horses: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Management

Published on Jun 6, 2023 12:00 AM
Shivers in Horses: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Management

Shivers is a neuromuscular condition primarily affecting horses, causing involuntary muscle tremors and difficulty with certain movements. 

Shivers in horses can be distressing for both animals and their owners. It can significantly impact the horse's performance and overall well-being. 

Understanding horse shivering is crucial for horse owners, trainers, and veterinarians to manage and provide appropriate care for affected animals.

This blog will overview the various aspects of equine shivers, including its symptoms, causes, and potential treatment options. 

So keep reading to learn what is shivers in horses and all about it! 

Horse Shivers Symptoms

Shivers disease in horses manifests as a set of characteristic symptoms, varying in severity from horse to horse. 

Common horse shivers symptoms include:

  • Involuntary muscle tremors, most often affecting the hind limbs
  • Tail twitching or lifting when the horse is asked to back up
  • Stiffness and difficulty flexing the hind limbs
  • Muscle spasms or cramping during certain movements, such as picking up a hoof or backing up

Causes of Shivers Disease in Horses

The exact cause of shivers in a horse remains unclear, but various factors may contribute to its development. 
Some potential causes include:

•  Genetic Predisposition

Certain horse breeds, like draft horses and warmbloods, are more prone to equine shivers.

•  Neurological Abnormalities

Researchers believe that shivers in horses may result from abnormalities in their central nervous system, particularly the cerebellum, the part responsible for controlling movement.

•  Environmental Factors

Stress, poor nutrition, and unhygienic management practices are also some potential factors that may contribute to the onset and severity of horse shivering.

Diagnosing Equine Shivers 

To accurately diagnose shivers in horses, a veterinarian will conduct a thorough examination, which may include:

  • Observation of clinical signs during different movements
  • Blood tests to check out other possible causes of muscle tremors
  • Neurological evaluations, such as checking for reflexes and muscle reactions

Shivers in Horses Treatment Options 

Factually, there is no exact cure for shivers disease in horses; however, several management strategies can help ease the symptoms and improve the horse's quality of life. 

The best practices are as follows. 

Regular Exercise and Turnout

Moderate exercise and frequent turnout in a safe environment can help maintain muscle strength and mobility in horses with shivering conditions.


Equine specialists may sometimes prescribe medications such as muscle relaxants or anti-inflammatories to manage horse shivers symptoms.

Dietary Adjustments

Ensuring the horse receives a balanced diet with the required vitamins and minerals may be beneficial to ease the signs of shivers in a horse.

Supportive Care

Providing a comfortable and stress-free environment for the horse, including soft bedding and regular farrier care, can improve the overall well-being of the animals, minimizing discomfort.

Management Considerations for Equine Shivers 

Managing a horse with shivers requires careful attention. 

Trainers and veterinarians should be aware of horses’ specific needs and limitations. 

Some important considerations include:

Adjusting Training Techniques

Modifying training methods to accommodate the horse's limitations and focusing on exercises that promote flexibility and muscle control can be beneficial.

Monitoring for Progression

Shivers in horses can worsen over time. Therefore, regular observation and communication with a veterinarian are essential to adapt the management plan effectively.

Emotional Support

Owners should provide reassurance and patience to horses with shivers. This would help relieve frustration and anxiety because of the animal’s limited mobility.

Research and Advancements Regarding Horse Shivering 

With the evolving understanding of equine health, research and advancements are shedding new light on what is shivers in horses.
Scientists and veterinarians are trying to better understand the condition to develop more effective treatment options. 

Some current research efforts include:

Genetic Studies

Researchers are investigating the genetic basis of shivers. These genetic studies can help identify specific mutations contributing to the development of shivers in equines. 

For early detection, the knowledge might lead to targeted breeding strategies and genetic testing.

Neurological Studies

Studying the neurological aspects of shivers is a way to unravel its underlying mechanisms.

In this regard, researchers are using advanced imaging techniques and neurophysiological assessments. 

Thus, they can better comprehend the affected neural pathways and potential treatment targets.

Shivers Vs Stringhalt in Horses

Both stringhalt and shivers are neurological disorders in equine. These horse diseases are characterized by abnormal movement of the hind legs.

However, there are some key differences between the two conditions. 

Stringhalt in Equines

Damage to the nerves that control the muscles in the hind legs causes stringhalt in horses. 

Several factors can be the cause of this damage, including:

  • Infection
  • Injury
  • Poisoning

The symptoms of stringhalt typically develop at once. These are most noticeable when the horse is trotting or walking.

The horse may suddenly lift one or both hind legs and flex them sharply at the hock. Then they may hold the leg in a flexed position for a few seconds. 

In severe cases, the horse may not walk or trot at all.

Shivers in Horses

The causes of shivers in a horse are similar to that of stringhalt. However, the damage is usually more diffuse.

The symptoms are also similar, but they are usually less severe. The horse may have a slight hitch in its gait or occasionally lift one or both hind legs and flex them sharply.

In severe cases, the horse may be reluctant to walk or trot backward.

Diagnosis of Equine Stringhalt and Shivers

Both conditions are diagnosed based on the horse's history, clinical signs, and neurological examination. 

Diagnostic tests such as nerve conduction studies or electromyography may be necessary to confirm these horse diseases.

Treatment Options

There is no cure for shivers or stringhalt in horses.

However, various treatment options can help manage the symptoms. 

These include:

  • Rest
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Pain medication
  • Botulinum toxin injections

In some cases, surgery may be the ultimate option.


There is no sure way to prevent stringhalt or shivers, but some measures can help reduce the risk of developing these horse diseases. 

  • Vaccinating your horse against equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM)
  • Providing your horse with a safe and healthy environment
  • Avoiding exposure to toxins

Early diagnosis and treatment can help improve the horse's prognosis and prevent the condition from worsening.

If you notice any of the symptoms of these two veterinary diseases, consult with your vet immediately. 

To Conclude!

Shivers in horses is a complex neuromuscular condition. It requires careful attention, understanding, and collaboration between owners, trainers, and veterinarians. 

It’s necessary for the caretaker to have some knowledge of veterinary complications, specifically horse diseases. This way, they can better care for their equine fellows. 

Vet and Tech has the most authentic data if you want to learn about different animal diseases and their solution. To learn more, explore our page for veterinary diseases.


Can a horse with shivers regain its strength and athleticism? 

Management strategies such as regular exercise, appropriate nutrition, and supportive care can help maintain muscle strength and improve the horse's overall well-being. However, working closely with a veterinarian to develop a tailored management plan is essential.

Is shivers a hereditary condition? 

There is evidence to suggest that shivers may have a genetic component. Besides, environmental factors and management practices can also influence its development. 

Can shivers be mistaken for other conditions?

Yes, the symptoms of shivers in horses can sometimes resemble other neurological or musculoskeletal conditions, such as stringhalt or muscle disorders.