In a spin - why headshaking remedies are a matter of trial and error

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Headshaking can be caused by many different things, so it can be challenging to find a definitive cause, and hundreds of pounds can be spent on various diagnostics without success.

Specialist equine vet Gemma Tyner explains some headshaking remedies.

Getting nervy

One of the main causes is a hyper-responsive trigeminal nerve. The trigerminal nerve is a nerve that allows the face to detect feeling or sensation. This nerve can be simulated by light, cold air on the nose and nasal passages, or on the facial skin and teeth.

In headshakers, the horse has an overt response to a stimulus that a normal horse would hardly even notice.

Power of protection

The purpose of things like nose nets and sun visors is to protect the trigeminal nerve from the stimuli.

They do work in many horses as long as the appparatus matches the cause of the problem, but of course, getting to the root cause of the problem is the issue. The right treatment has to be paired with the diagnosis and cause.

Decreasing sensitivity

PENS (percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) is a form of neuromodulation in which electrical stimulation of the trigeminal nerve is applied to sedated horses. The stimulation of the nerve is thought to decrease its sensitivity, eventually making the hypersensitive nerve less reactive.

Magnesium supplements and salt in the diet are thought to have neuroprotective effects on nerve firing and are aimed at dampening signs related to neuropathic pain or pain generated by hypersensitive nerves.

Seasonal headshakers

Some horses only headshake in certain seasons, like spring and summer. Piriton is an antihistamine drug that may reduce sensitivity in some horses in response to light or pollen. If you did want to try giving your horse piriton, consult your vet first to get an accurate dose.

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