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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan. 30, 2006
    new hampshire

    Default head shaking hurting test scores...any ideas??please.....

    My daugther events at the FE! levels and recently a dressage judge came out and told her the horse needed to see the FEI vet to rule out any form of lameness because of his head shaking. He had a good test, but did flip his head a few times and this detracted from her scores in a big way. THe horse is 20 and has done this for at least 14 years, although sometimes it is virtually nonexistent....WE re going to KY for the NAJYRCs next onth and would really like to be able to put in a test that would not reflect the head shaking issue. Any advice you could give would be greatly appreciated....
    I've learned more from the back of a horse than most folks ever get to know...
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  2. #2
    Join Date
    May. 15, 2004



    I had a horse once that had "head shaking syndrome." From april until November he would flip his head uncontrollably. I found that a nose net (which fits over the noseband of the bridle) significantly decreased his headshaking. Dover Saddlery carries them. I believe that they are now approved for use in dressage tests (but I could be wrong). I don't know if that is your horse's problem, but's it's just a suggestion. I feel your daughter's frustration. Hope she can find a solution!

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan. 4, 2000


    Oh it could be due to so many different things it's really hard to advise.

    Most people would immediately say he must have photosensitization syndrome, which is well known these days to many equine sleuths, and makes horses toss their heads up and down. I think it would be better to have a vet diagnose the problem, and treat it under a vet's direction and not make any assumptions til it's worked up in detail and discussed with a good vet.

    With an older horse that has been doing something for 14 years, fixing any underlying problems might not actually make the habit go away quickly. It might or might not. A long term habit can be hard to break even when the cause is removed. Animals just get habits...but he also could stop it immediately, who can say.

    It could be that the animal has some abnormality in the nasal passages, or some sort of discharge there, even due to mild allergies, who knows, that irritates him, or there may be some very slight change in riding that will take care of it.

    Sometimes it can be as simple as the horse is impatient, or a little stiff or hard in the contact. A different trainer might be able to state the problem a little differently in a way that just clicks iwth your daughter and horse, or might spot something different that proves to be a key.

    A slightly different choice of bits (nothing huge, nothing strange), or some other slight adjustment might make a surprising amount of change. Sometimes the slightest change in one's riding is all it takes.

    There are down sides to going to a new trainer right before a big competition. It might not work out or might be too big of a change for a young person to try to change their riding a month or two before a competition they really care about. Some people would say to heck with it til after the championships, others would feel it's best to get some input on it before hand.

    I would myself, probably try to take care of it right now. I'd try one of the really good sport horse vet clinics with a very good vet, and get done whatever diagnostics s/he suggested, and maybe during a clinic with a big time trainer, ask their opinion (and thereby avoid changing trainers...just get an outside opinion).

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct. 10, 2005
    in the saddle


    Quote Originally Posted by specialK View Post
    He had a good test, but did flip his head a few times and this detracted from her scores in a big way. THe horse is 20 and has done this for at least 14 years
    One of the basic requirements of dressage is to "acceptance of the bit" = steady head = no head shaking. At about 3rd level that your daughter is riding tests calls to be "reliably on the bit" I'm sorry to tell you that if the horse wasn't able to develop a steady bit acceptance for 14 years it will be quite difficult to fix it before you'll go to KY for the NAJYRCs next month.

    My advice would be look closer how steady and soft your daughter's hands are. If she is riding with a busy, strong hands, may be trying to wiggle the bit too much to put the horse on the bit = horse may protest the busy hands and will throw the head up.

    I don't know how much you know about horses, but in case you are not a horseperson yourself: bit needs to be "passive" at those levels and horse needs to accept the bit and be reliably on the bit thought the test. If the horse throws his head up it's either a sight of not reliably being on the bit or soundness issues during the difficult exercisers. the horse is already 20 years old = that is an old age for horses = they can develop a sudden lameness and even pass away from the old age at 20 years old. You should realize that you are asking to ride a 3rd level test from a very old horse. Most people who are so lucky that their horses can still show at the ripe age of 20 = are grateful for every since test and take it as a gift.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan. 4, 2000


    It isn't always that the hands need to be softer. Sometimes excessive 'softness' is what causes the unsteady head carriage.

    If the rider doesn't give the horse some sort of limit he gets an unsteady head carriage.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan. 30, 2003


    you need another pair of eyes on the ground.

    To help that person: make sure you know all the times the horse shakes his head, is it at a particular point or randomly? Just tacked up or only after a long work out? Is it only under tack -- if yes, is it ever when the rider is on the ground? For all I know his bit, saddle, or girth pinches.

  7. #7
    Astro Guest


    Headshaking is a very real problem, it is most common in mature geldings. Please see the April issue of Practical Horseman for some good medical advice about it.

    I second the nose net -- the Equilibrium nose net is excellent, and is I believe legal, you can check that out. It can work wonders.

    If your horse is truly a seasonal headshaker, what is happening is that he is hypersensitive in his nose because the trigeminal nerve in his face is irritated. The turbulence of the wind going up his nose as he works is painful for him, and his flinches are involuntary. The net can break up the wind, so he can still breathe fine but the air flow is different.

    The current theory (led by Dr. Madigan of University of California at Davis -- a fantastic resource who is very willing to communicate with horse owners) is that in the Spring, some horses get an overdose of serotonin that irritates the trigeminal nerve. Usually this is geldings, as mares and stallions have natural sex hormones that offset the serotonin.

    There is a protocol that can help a lot. My horse is on it and is about 80 -90% better. It's a simple regimen of magnesium (like Quiessence), MSM, and melatonin. (It's probably too late in the season for your horse to get the melatonin, but the other things can help a lot). They also recommend Spirulina, but my horse wouldn't eat it. The specifics of the protocol are available online, from Dr. Madigan, or you can PM me.

    Regardless of the showing ramifications, horses with this problem do suffer a lot of pain so it would be good to investigate if he has this sort of head shaking, and consider taking some easy steps to provide relief.

    Good luck, he sounds like a good horse!

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jan. 4, 2000


    I think that's only the right thing to do if that's what's wrong with the horse. That is not the cause of all head shaking or head tossing. Assuming that's what it is could lead to some very serious consequences.

    Much better to get a veterinarian involved and find out what it is, and treat that specifically.

    A friend of mine's horse had the same symptoms and had a mycotic (fungal) infection in the gutteral pouch. The vet said it had progressed so far that if they hadn't found it, it would have eaten thru a major artery, causing instant death by hemmorhage and no one could have done a thing about it fast enough at that point. I am not saying that's what this horse has, I'm saying if the horse is having a chronic problem, get a vet involved. It could be a training issue, but it's important to eliminate any other issues.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jul. 25, 2002


    I had a seasonal headshaker that I evented at Prelim. He did not tend to do it when jumping, but it was not a bitting issue because he did it in the field in the stall etc.

    I think it was pollen, etc. during or after a rain he would not do it.

    At home I rode him in a fly mask. nose nets did not help us. It helped him to keep the sun out of his eyes.

    I used Cyproheptadine. you have to ease them on to it (it can be sedative). you can discontinue it 24 hours showing but it has some residual effects (it still helps). YOu have to file a medical report but that was not problem. at the time I did not need a vet report. (this was 2001-2003). then i also gave 2 grams of bute for the dressage (12 hours prior was legal). I think it helped with the sinus pressure, then I used a saline nasal spray (in a misting bottle) up his nostrils 2 times a day at the show.

    I would also hand him a big handful of oats just before entering the ring for my dressage because I noticed that he did not headshake when he was eating. I thought it might help keep his mind off his sinuses.

    It came on when he was 9. before that I noticed he would swish the water around in his trough. i learned later that was a symtom.

    He was quite a successful event horse in spite of the Head shaking, but it is a nightmare. I wish you luck.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Nov. 10, 2008


    Just throwing this additional thought on the head shaking I had a Gelding who suddenly developed a dramatic head tossing I was never able to get rid of it because it was so bad with him but I did notice a dramatic improvement in it when he received regular chiropractic treatments on his neck. He had done something over his lifetime that had injured his neck and the nerves their. The facial nerve treatments did not help him like chiro did. Hope your senior guy does well nxt month.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Sep. 8, 2006
    Franklin, TN


    A jumper trainer who I know to be a wonderful horsewoman was showing me just recently about nose nets, she fashions them from hairnets for those couple of horses he has in trainer that are head shakers.

    Indeed, look into a seasonal allergy tickle, I will not assume that the riding is a problem, but it could be a long time "tic" the horse has a a certain point of work and excitement of a show situation....does he do it in lessons too? I am going to venture that over the years this horse has been under enough eyes that if your daughter's riding were causing this, someone would have caught it.

    Look into allergies, and look into a nose net...might be just the little bit you need. The ones made from a hairnet are virtually invisible, and my jumper trainer friend (who is well versed in dressage) says they made a big difference in the two student horses that tend to have a nervous flip and shake at horse shows, Good luck to you!

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Mar. 15, 2009
    suffolk, England


    i had a top level event horse who i bought for peanuts when he was at novice, loads of talent but almost unridable through seasonal head shaking, with a nosenet he was fine, but back then you werent alowed one in the dressage (the uk situation on them now is that you can use one with a vets certificate, dont know us situation) so with the help of a very good vet friend we tried lots of things, some of which worked!!! at least a bit!
    these were well the ones that worek at all: petrolium jelly all over the inside of the nostrils (quite useful)
    nebulising the horse with a water spray before dressage, (again quite efective if you can get hold of an equine nebuliser and can cope with 10 mins on a foot pump just before you ride a test!!!)
    local anestetic creams (limited sucsess)
    and the most efective! we found a clinic in france (unfortunately now closed) that did dog and cat allergies and they saw my horse!! they diagnosed alergies to oak pollen, poplar pollen, and nettle pollen, and we injected him with tiny amounts of these things every day (in increasing amounts) for 3 years there was quite a large improvement from this! not complete though.
    also riding quality makes a difference, you need to keep the horse very relaxed but also firmly ridden in front of the leg, if you get them properly swinging through the back you will make them relax and if there totally relaxed they wont do it unless environmental conditions are terrible.

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