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  • Headshaking

    My horse has started to display symptoms of headshaking. They come and go which makes it frusterating to manage. We have had him scoped, tried Dex and an antihistamine and none have seemed to work. We tried a hairnet over this nose this weekend and I *think* that helped (he did it as soon as we pulled it off and stopped as soon as we put it back on). Horse likes to try to eat the hair net, so we tied it on to his bridle and he seemed to deal with it.

    Does anyone have any management or treatment suggestions/experience with headshaking? He started at the end of august, then didnt do it for two weeks and started again this week. We think it may be photosensitivity as he does not do it indoors and he only did it yesterday when the sun came out (at the KHP where the rings are super bright with the light footing).

    One trainer said she had success with acupuncture. Would love any other ideas.
    "I can't help but wonder,what would Jimmy Buffett do?"


  • #2
    I know there are quite a few other threads on this in Horse Care - but I will be following this as a friend of mine's horse just started this earlier this summer, too.


    • #3
      A client of mine has used several craniosacral sessions, fly masks and riding the mare before the sun is too strong. She is almost symptom free now.


      • #4
        I have seen some success using magnesium. Does not eliminate the problem, but seems to manage it for minor cases.


        • #5
          I second getting a nice UV blocking fly mask like an Absorbine Ultrashield to ride him in. I think there's also make a version that's just a domed panel that fits between the cheek pieces of a bridle if you want a more polished appearance for shows and such.

          It also might be wise to have his eyes checked for uveitis. A horse that I frequently ride head tossed for a very long time till his eyes were checked out and was diagnosed with uveitis -- a good flymask and maintenance steroid ointment treatment has made him a completely different man.


          • #6
            this works wonders on my gelding. We usually school in it and take it off to show as we walk in. Have show in the hunters and eq in it as well and not a huge issue with most judges


            • #7
              My lease has the exact same problem you described. He did not have it until he turned 15-tried everything (meds, probing, etc). The nose nets did not work for him, neither did a fly veil. We are currently using a long Cashel Crusader fly mask (eyes to nose-no ear coverage) while schooling and warming up for shows. We also lesson in the covered arena whenever possible. It comes off for our round in the Hunter ring, and right back on. He only shakes his head once or twice on course, and the judges do not seem to mind.


              • #8
                Try the Cashel Quiet Ride full mask with face and nose coverage. The coverage of the eyes helps with any photic component, and the nose coverage acts as a counter irritant to deal with the nerve pain in the nose. Ride inside on very sunny days when the head shaking is extremely bad. At shows, school with the mask on (including jumps). Stand with the mask on ringside, and have someone remove it as you enter the ring. With most horses, the head shaking is not a problem while actually on course jumping. You may have trouble in the hacks (I eventually stopped hacking my head shaking hunter).

                I successfully showed my head shaking junior hunter this way for quite some time. Cyproheptadine also helps some of them, but is quite expensive (and they have to come off of it for a sufficient withdrawal period prior to showing).


                • #9
                  Also, it's prime time for allergies to be starting back up, so that could be a factor. I had great success with Duralactin, which I believe you can get from Valley Vet. There are lots of threads about this, so start reading! Lol. Every horse is different, so you have to do a lot of trial and error to get the right combo of things.
                  "On the back of a horse I felt whole, complete, connected to that vital place in the center of me...and the chaos within me found balance."


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Limone View Post
                    this works wonders on my gelding. We usually school in it and take it off to show as we walk in. Have show in the hunters and eq in it as well and not a huge issue with most judges
                    Same. As long as I ride him in it all the time, my horse is always fine on a show day if I'm asked to remove it at the show (the amount of hoops I have to jump through to be allowed to show with it is so irritating..). Once it's on you hardly see it though.


                    • #11
                      My mare has always done this with spring time allergies. We tried SmartBreathe this year with great results.


                      • #12
                        I show my headshaker in a hairnet that attaches to the noseband and goes over his nose. You can barely see it unless you're up close. It fixes the problem completely unless it's super bright outside.


                        • #13
                          My eight year old gelding started headshaking in April. There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it - sunlight, overcast, windy, still, etc. It started only happening under saddle but then progressed to his having tics while on turnout as well. He always had access to his stall and if he started having tics they would go away as soon as he came inside but he could also be outside on a sunny day with no problems. Did all sorts of diagnostics to rule out physical causes (eyes, ears, teeth, tumors, etc.). I tried a nose net while riding once and he was horrible - spent the whole ride snorting and blowing and miserable. Did allergy testing and he came back positive to a lot of different pollens, along with soybeans and corn (and we're surrounded by corn and soybean fields, oh goody) so vet suspected allergies, especially with the mild winter we had last year. He did also test positive for EPM so we treated for that and he was on hydroxyzine for about 60 days with no change. I started to switch him to cyproheptadine and right around when I was making the switch (the meds overlapped for a week or two) I realized that I wasn't seeing any symptoms anymore. He had a mild colic episode after he'd been on the cypro for about a week (had seen lots of comments from random people online saying to watch for a colic after about day 3 but my vet pooh-poohed the idea that it was set off by the cypro, even while he was standing there tubing my horse late on a Friday night). I pulled him off all the meds about a week later just to see if the tics would return as I was hoping to be able to take him to a show and I haven't seen any symptoms since then (mid-July).

                          No idea if this will be a seasonal thing we'll have to deal with or a one-time problem, but I wouldn't wish it on anybody. It broke my heart to see him like that and not be able to do anything to help him. There's a yahoo group that has a ton of information on it - I suggest joining it, as well as just doing lots of googling and sorting through whatever you find. There's so many different causes and things to try and unfortunately some of them take time to let build up in their system before you can determine if they're going to work or not. Good luck!
                          Last edited by drawstraws; Sep. 17, 2012, 07:03 PM. Reason: Grammar police...
                          It's not about the color of the ribbon but the quality of the ride. Having said that, I'd like the blue one please!


                          • #14
                            you have a PM from me


                            • #15
                              I have a horse with awful headshaking. We tried him indoors and when it was cloudy out. The old owners had no idea he had this problem. For two months we could not ride him. Now we hack him in a fly mask and he almost always wears a fly mask during the day. Dover and some local tack shops sell a great product that you attach to the noseband. I showed this horse successfully up to the 1.30 meters with the noseband attachment and a bonnet.
                              I never did accupunture or anything because we heard it only will help for one or two rides. Good luck with your horse - do not give up on him!!!!


                              • #16
                                Try lathering your horses nostrils and on the inside of the ears with vaseline. I did this with my horse. I wasn't sure if it was bugs bothering his ears or allergens in his nose so I did both. He doesn't shake at all when I put that on. Good luck.


                                • #17
                                  my horse was the same as what OP described. (allergy+photosens.)

                                  1) Guardian mask http://www.horsemask.com/products.html for turn out
                                  2) nose net for riding out-doors.
                                  3) Smartbreathe supplement
                                  4) wet hay thoroughly

                                  she was on dirt paddock for 2 yrs and quite a few meds. now back on grass and no meds.


                                  • #18
                                    Thanks for all the suggestions, everyone!

                                    My 7 y/o OTTB gelding just started this behavior this spring, and it was BAD to the point that it was becoming dangerous to ride him, but just as I started to try some fixes the behavior more or less disappeared. (Didn't get to the point of supplements or meds yet, and I would really prefer not to put anything into his system if I can avoid it.) But within the last week it has started up again so I am back on the hunt to figure out a solution.

                                    I have been riding in a fly mask, b/c I know there is some photosensitivity going on (symptom free most of the way around the arena, but when we turn into the sun all the sudden he can't stop) as well as hypersensitivity to any bugs (a fly anywhere NEAR his face will cause him to lose his gd mind)... But it isn't cured completely by this and the nose net doesn't have any effect at all, other than distracting him from paying attention to work.

                                    I think I will try the vaseline next (today), and fingers crossed it will work. This behavior has taken my otherwise sweet, biddable, QUIET gelding and turned him into an unrideable monster (he got so upset at times in the spring it would turn into panic and sometimes rearing-type behavior, though he never got all the way up, just light and bouncy in the front end... but still scary as hell, especially b/c it was so unexpected from my easy going guy), and has derailed our training progress completely, though now we are getting back on track (I hope).

                                    Anyway, thanks for the suggestions everyone, and for those just starting out trying to find solutions, please share what worked for you and what didn't. I know they are all different, and what works for one might not work for another, but any ideas are good ones to try!
                                    Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.


                                    • #19
                                      I wrote an article on Dr. Robert Cook and his research into bits for Horse Sport magazine. His work suggests that head shaking may be a symptom of mouth pain associated with bits:

                                      "The repeated pressure of bit on bone causes the sensory nerve to the face to become super-sensitive, i.e., to develop trigeminal neuralgia. This is the most common cause of head shaking (tossing). Horses experience pain in the mouth, but also in their face, eyes, and ears. A head-tosser may also be difficult to bridle, a persistent head-rubber, unable to stand bright light, wind or rain, and impossible to handle around the ears. Trigeminal neuralgia occurs most commonly in horses required to work with their heads in flexion.”

                                      I've never had to deal with a head shaker (or ridden in a bitless bridle for that matter), but if the bit is causing the issue, perhaps removing it would help alleviate the symptoms?
                                      Enabling hunter/jumper addicts everywhere.


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by Carley Sparks View Post
                                        I've never had to deal with a head shaker (or ridden in a bitless bridle for that matter), but if the bit is causing the issue, perhaps removing it would help alleviate the symptoms?
                                        I first noticed symptoms in my horse when he was out in the field, standing around. He hasn't been ridden for nearly 2 years and still head flicks. He is worse under stress - some days, simply catching him and bringing him to the stables will set it off. If head shaking is about mouth pain, caused by a bit, I would have thought that after this amount of time, it would have settled.

                                        I think that my horse's head shaking was triggered by an allergic reaction to something (in the environment, probably a grass, hay or straw variety), he is now very sensitive to it and small amounts can set him off. If i could put him in a sterile, sealed environment I could do some elimination tests, but its difficult to find one of them for a horse!