While headshaking can begin (and end) abruptly, for many horses it can linger for years and be challenging to cure with conventional therapy. For this reason, many owners have turned to natural or homeopathic alternatives to conventional drugs.
Sadly, there isn’t a single treatment that works perfectly for every horse every time; rather, there is a wide range of approaches that can help some horses. Additionally, these therapies can be combined to offer a more potent treatment.
About 25% of horses who suffer from trigeminal-mediated headshaking may find considerable relief from using a mask with a nasal net, which is arguably one of the easiest and most effective treatments available. The nose net was formerly thought to prevent insects or dust from getting into the horse’s nostrils, however it has since been revealed that this isn’t actually the case. The stimulation the net gives helps to lessen or perhaps halt the headshaking, even though it will plainly prevent foreign objects from aggravating the horse’s airways. Due to the net’s proximity to the sensitive nerves, which causes it to be constantly stimulated, it actually suppresses the overactive nerve.
There are many firms that sell masks with nose nets, but I’ve found that this one is the best because it’s lightweight, durable, and reasonably priced. They are available on Amazon.
Reducing the quantity of light hitting your horse’s eyes will, in most situations, completely eliminate the behavior if the headshaking is being brought on by excessive sensitivity to bright light. As it turns out, wearing a mask that provides 90% UV protection will significantly lessen the likelihood of the light artificially stimulating the nerves.
For horses with wind sensitivity, some masks also have ear covers that might lessen headshaking. I personally adore the Absorbine Ultra Shield and use it on my horses, but if you’d rather have ears, I’d suggest the Harrison Howard CareMaster because it not only has ears but also comes in a variety of colors. They’re both accessible on Amazon.
Equine headshaking can be significantly reduced with the use of a UV fly mask with a nose cover.
Not all horses enjoy riding when wearing a mask, but this is frequently when the headshaking is most severe, especially if you frequently ride in and out of shadows. UV glasses or tinted contacts might help block out the light when riding if your horse doesn’t like masks.
Although I’ve discovered a company that can ship them anywhere in the world, they are still quite new on the market. They also come in a variety of colors as an added bonus. They are directly available for purchase on the Protective Pet Solutions website.
A later turnout time
Bring your horse inside when the sun is at its brightest if you find that his head shaking is worse when he is turned out in direct sunlight. If you can put him in a darkened stall during the day and turn him out at night, this improvement will be even more noticeable.
If you don’t have a darkened stall, don’t panic. You can use UV mesh curtains to block out sunlight by covering windows and entrances. Don’t worry about the airflow because your horse’s stall can still get air because of its mesh. It’s not necessary to purchase specific horse curtains; any will work just as well, like these ones I bought on Amazon.
Although it’s less often than once believed, flies and bugs can make certain horses headshake. The good news is that the issue should quickly go away with some basic fly and pest treatment. Fly sheets, fly traps, and fly sprays that are suitable for horses can all aid in lowering the number of flying insects. You can easily produce your own fly spray by boiling a sliced lemon in a pint of water for around 10 hours, letting it cool, and then siphoning it into spray bottles. I’ve provided links to fly sheets and traps on Amazon.
Magnesium can assist to lower the threshold for the nerves firing, which will help to lessen the horse’s hypersensitivity to whatever is stimulating the nerve, even though it won’t always totally cure trigeminal-mediated headshaking.
Magnesium has one drawback: if given to horses in excess, they can have major adverse effects. For this reason, you should always consult your veterinarian before providing your horse magnesium. They’ll be able to monitor the level of magnesium in your horse’s bloodstream as well as provide you with some dose advice.
Check to see whether your horse’s tack isn’t hurting them because poorly fitted tack accounts for a significant portion of headshaking instances (about 1 percent of all cases, or roughly 26,270 horses). Verify that the saddle is properly positioned and is not rubbing against the withers or the back of your horse.
Additionally, ensure sure the trigeminal nerve isn’t being overly compressed by the bridle or halter. Buying a bridle and/or halter with padding inside, if they have one, can assist to relieve pressure and thus lessen the sensation on the nerve.
Horses’ teeth are constantly developing, which is advantageous because they are also being filed down as they eat, but it can occasionally result in uneven tooth wear that results in sharp points and edges. The headshaking will frequently stop overnight if you have your veterinarian or an equine dentist inspect these (and float them if necessary).
Young horses with wolf teeth may also occasionally interfere with the bit, causing the horse to jerk its head in discomfort and occasionally even pain. This is among the causes for which some owners decide to remove their horses’ wolf fangs.
PENS, also known as percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, is a new treatment that shows promise but is also quite expensive. It functions by applying an electric current with tiny needles near the trigeminal nerve, with a success rate of 6 out of 7 horses.
PENS isn’t a permanent solution, like many other therapies, but it can assist to manage the headshaking and make the horse much more comfortable.
Tiny needles are used in acupuncture, also known as electroacupuncture, to deliver an electrical impulse to the delicate nerves. Although it functions similarly to PENS, acupuncture uses particular locations on the body known as energy lines, whereas PENS stimulates the region precisely around the trigeminal nerve. Additionally, acupuncture is far less expensive than PENS!
According to a 2017 study, electroacupuncture can assist in easing the signs of horses’ headshaking.
Craniosacral treatment on horses
There is virtually little research to support or refute the claims made by some owners that equine craniosacral treatment is effective, which is why I chose to include it here. In an effort to restore the horse’s natural body flow, this holistic therapy moves fluids around by applying light pressure to the central nervous system. This is said to “reset” the horse’s nervous system (as well as remove any restrictions of movement of the head, spine, and pelvis). It is also thought to soothe and quiet the horse.
Homeopathy is sometimes viewed as an emerging field of medicine that is essentially snake oil, but nothing could be further from the truth on either count. Homeopathy has been practiced for hundreds of years and is simply the use of natural things (such as plants and minerals) to treat the body.
There is no data to support this, but many owners who do give it a try claim that their horses have significantly improved.
Zoopharmacognosy, one of the most well-known types of homeopathy, is based on an animal’s capacity to treat itself by ingesting or applying specific herbs. I’m not advocating that horses seek out the best treatment for themselves; rather, I’m advising that veterinarians employ essential oils extracted from these plants to assist in treating horses.