Ask Dr. Harman: Head Shaking

Question: My horse is a head shaker, and it has been suggested that we try a figure-8 noseband on him, as this puts less pressure on the facial nerves that increase a head shaking response. Is there any truth behind this?
Answer: There is some truth to this. The exact reason for a good response may be unknown, however, due to the location of the branches of the trigeminal nerve (cross the face in several places), it is possible the pressure actually changes the sensation the horse feels. It is possible that the pressure in this location deadens the overactive sensation, or triggers the nerve to respond less well to the stimulation that triggers the pain response. Whatever the reason, for a small percentage of the horses, a figure eight noseband can be helpful. It will either work or not, so you can try it, and if it does not work, there is no need to continue.  For a few horses, I have seen an old fashioned drop noseband do the same thing. 
Some horses do well with one of the masks that cover the nostrils, others have no effect. The same with a fly mask that cuts the light. A simple stocking over the nose works for some also. It is worth trying any of these mechanical ideas, as they cannot hurt and if they work, its great.
To help treat headshakers, I have had many good successes with homeopathic medicine, prescribed by a well trained veterinarian, as it is difficult to treat just by looking in a book. On some occasions, Chinese herbal medicine has been helpful, and the Western Herbal formula Shake no More, by Hilton Herbs can sometimes be supportive and helpful. 
This originally appeared in Equine Wellness.

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