Summer problems: Headshaking

  • Helen Vos owns Keiman Crays (“Casey”), a 13-year-old Welsh section D. He is a riding club all-rounder, with British Dressage points. Casey’s headshaking left him almost unrideable from spring to autumn.


    “Casey began headshaking at the age of five and on warm days or when the flies were out, he would twitch and flick. On a really bad day, he would become very overbent, tucking his nose between his legs and sometimes dragging it along the ground. Riding in woods or near hedgerows was a problem. He would sneeze and rub his nose against the stable wall after he had been ridden, as if to alleviate a bad itch.

    “Sometimes, I’d arrive at a dressage competition but would have to withdraw because Casey was so distressed. In dressage classes, I’d get comments such as ‘unsteadiness of head’ and ‘twitched up centre line’.”

    Advice given

    “I had Casey endoscoped, and his teeth and tack checked. Vets tried acupuncture and homeopathy — neither helped at all. The vet suggested I bought a TSE machine, which is a bit like a TENS machine and is strapped to the horse’s neck. The endorphins released are supposed to relax the horse. I would put it on Casey every day and he loved it. But it didn’t make any difference to his headshaking.”

    What she tried

    “People had lots of ideas, such as rubbing Vaseline around Casey’s nostrils to trap the flies, rubbing xylocaine, a local anaesthetic cream, around the nostrils to numb them, applying fly repellent or even shaving off his whiskers.

    “He used to wear a full-muzzle nose net. This worked fine for about 10min, until it filled with saliva, stuck to Casey’s nostrils and upset him a lot more.

    “When Casey was nine, the Equilibrium Net Relief half-muzzle mask (as pictured above right) came on to the market. It works really well and he can now be ridden all year round. The mask is subtle and can be used in some competitions if arrangements are made with the affiliated body or organisers.

    “I’d bet I was one of the first to get my dispensation form from British Dressage.”

  • This feature on summer horse care problems was first published in H&H (16 June, ’05)

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