Head Shaking Syndrome is one of the most heart-breaking and baffling conditions in horses world wide. Little is known about this condition. The only hope that is offered within the veterinary industry are sedatives, antihistamines, injections, or in extreme cases, cutting the ethmoid or trigeminal nerve, or bone removal. Nerve cutting and bone removal only has a small percentage of improvement from the specific condition, with other devastating side effects.
There are various attributions to this condition such as dental problems, physiological and neurological issues, reactions to environmental factors such as sunlight and allergens, and reactions to stress or pain.
One obvious contributor that is greatly overlooked is cranial trauma or compression!
Most craniosacral therapists who treat head shaking horses, find some kind of compression from an old trauma around their sinus bones, or the TMJ. Compressions on either the TMJ or one of the sinus bones, will put pressure on either the trigeminal nerve or the ethmoid nerve, causing pain and burning sensations. When allergy season is at its peak, sinus tissues expand to protect airways. If the bones surrounding the sinus cavity are injured or compressed, there is no room inside the sinus cavity to allow for expansion.Therefore the tissues and nerves become pinched, or compressed, resulting in the horse feeling a burning sensation in their nose. Unfortunately, most head traumas in horses go unnoticed unless the skin was broken open. Even then, most horses just get stitched back up with no X-rays and no further exploration. The horse industry does not recognize the importance of head injuries, nor do they relate to the pressure that we put on their heads and the problems that this causes. This is not to say that every horse who has a head trauma will become a head shaker, but in my experience, every head shaker has had a head trauma to one of the areas mentioned. Why some horses react and others don't is unknown. It is most likely a variety of factors involved.
Most horses find relief with just craniosacral therapy alone. However, it is also important to find a dentist who understands how to balance the mouth to the TMJ. Also magnesium therapy may help and balancing minerals to their forage. Taking them off of anything that could cause inflammation such as sugar and processed feeds is a must. Vaccines have also been known to trigger head shaking due to the inflammation response that they can cause, so spacing them out might also be helpful to your horse who is suffering.
Below are just a few case studies of horses diagnosed with Head Shaking Syndrome
BEANIE, AUGUST 15, 2010. Seven year old Paint gelding. Diagnosed with Head Shaking Syndrome in 2006.
JAN 2012 UPDATE ON BEANIE
"For the first time my gelding had some relief from his Headshakers Syndrome after his first craniosacral treatment. Beanie had another follow-up treatment on October 28, 2010 prior to attending the 2010 Paint World where he placed Top Five in two Hunter Under Saddle Events. After one year and two treatments, Beanie is still not headshaking! Thank you Shea for all of your work and dedication to horses with Head Shakers." Susan Matta, Marion, TX
CHILI OCTOBER 2011, QUARTER HORSE GELDING
Chili began head shaking in the summer of 2010. During his first assessment, he had signs of significant TMJ asymmetry and discomfort. He has had 3 craniosacral treatments, and two dental exams by exceptional Natural Balance dentists. He was found to have aggressive power floating that flattened his table angles, causing a cracked tooth. This was one of the factors, along with cranial compression, that lead to his head shaking syndrome. He is now comfortable and shows no signs of head shaking.
SUMMER 2012 UPDATE ON CHILI
DANSA, FEB 2012 QUARAB MARE
Shea knew this mare ten years ago when she was spunky and full of life. Years later, Shea was called to treat some horses at Morning Sun Ranch in Watsonville, CA. Her first client was Dansa, this little mare that Shea remembered from years ago. The story was that she had been turned out in pasture and one day her owner came out and she was miserable and head shaking. She had some accident which caused significant trauma to the left side of her temporal bone and jaw. She had obvious signs of trigeminal nerve damage with a droopy eye and lower lip. Her tongue also stuck out of the left side of her mouth. She was in horrible discomfort and extremely emotional. Also considered a violent head shaker. The vet who examined her diagnosed her as a "head shaker" and said she most likely was kicked by another horse, no further treatment was done. The ranch owner suggested craniosacral, which the owner tried. Shea gave her one treatment and she was able to relax some. She has been given two more treatments (by Genae Kindscher) and reports are that her head shaking has stayed to a minimal amount, and she is much more happy and relaxed!