Monday, October 31, 2011

That Small Spark

Failures in treatment contribute to depression and loss of hope, for the owner, and some treatments may even cause an increase in pain for the horse.
For those readers just starting out with Cowboy's story, we discovered he has Head Shaking Syndrome late last spring. The symptoms started small and got worse, especially as the summer days grew longer and when he was under stress.

When he'd have his episodes he was dangerous to handlers, and himself, without wanting to be. There was this involuntary head-bobbing, striking at his nose with his hooves like a bee was stinging him, and crazy belly-itching, even dragging himself across the ground to get relief.

When I'd put him in a dark stall the symptoms would go away, and as the summer progressed, they subsided to the point I thought I'd be riding him again only to have my hopes dashed with another episode.

I sent the video of his worst one to a woman who has dedicated herself to finding a cure for Head Shaking Syndrome and has a website devoted to that purpose, Pam Neff. In my experience, I don't know anyone with more solid information on it than her. The quote I began this post with is from her Homepage.  Click here for the  She writes:
Many articles give numerous (about 60) potential causes for headshaking which include insect irritation, ear mites, dental problems, tack and rider contributions, allergies, sunlight sensitivity, chiropractic issues, vaccinations and so on. These may be triggers for headshaking but they are not necessarily the cause of headshaking syndrome.
I've blamed almost all those things on the head shaking, but she's right, they're triggers. I emailed her with an explanation of Cowboy's situation and she wrote this back:
It might be beneficial to use a mask that has more UV protection such as the Guardian Mask on my website. the custom one is the best. It is a bit pricey but will definitely help reduce symptoms. You need to keep it on 24/7 except when riding or other work. Magnesium, esp. a supplement called Quiessence is helpful at 2-3 or 4 X the recommended dose. Start at the low dose and slowly work up.
At this point, with the short, cool days, Cowboy seems symtom-free. He had his farrier visit last Tuesday and didn't show any signs of stress or head-bobbing. Next year I plan to attack it early in February/March with a combination: darkening mask, dark stall during windy days or excessively bright days, Magnesium supplements, Cyprohepatine, and a riding mask with nose net.   I hope I can ride him this winter, too.

So, I still have the peaks and valleys of hope and hopelessness with him, but right now, the conditions are good for Cowboy and I can enjoy fall and winter while I plan for spring. I've pretty much come to terms with the reality of the situation--that my chances of having him be a go-to trail horse again are low since I have to have a horse I can count on and I'm not sure how much a head-shaker can ever be that type of horse.

As I was sorting through this the last few months, I didn't want to think about horses, write about horses, talk about horses, read about horses, or think too deeply about Cowboy's problems.  I just wanted to "be" with my horses in the most simple way, petting them, cleaning their stalls, feeding, watching them, and getting ready for winter. 

Some days I'd wonder what I could do to motivate myself to the next step and get back the desire and the mental energy and emotion to move forward with saddle-training.  I even contemplated hiring a personal assistant to just come out and hold my hand and walk me to the barn and to the tack room and to the arena until I could get past whatever it is/was (I'm not entirely sure I can write about this in the past tense yet) that was stopping me.

A couple of weeks ago my daughter asked if she could start riding Cia, my five year old Paint, for me.  She knows Beautiful is my personal horse, but Cia (or C'ya, her real name) has always been a family project.  It turns out she wanted to quit her job and dedicate herself to college and horses and see if she could make enough of a living.  (She doesn't need much.)  I have confidence in her ability to work with the young ones, she's done a good job with her own, so I took her up on it.

It didn't take her long and she was off to the barn. I watched from the window, at first thinking I'd just let her be and get some other project done.   But watching them walk together across the field and enter the round pen, I could feel that small spark of excitement.  I couldn't work on a project in the house when my daughter was out riding my green filly. 

I rushed to put my boots on, too.

Shiloh to the rescue.

(To be continued...)

Happy Halloween, everyone.


  1. Linda--My son is often the catalyst that gets me riding--kids are useful that way (!)

    I never knew about head shaking syndrome--that's a new one for me. How terribly frustrating.

    Happy Halloween to you!

  2. Yes, they are. Shiloh used to be my main riding partner when she was younger, but the last few years she's been a bit AWOL.

    I hadn't heard of Head Shaking Syndrome either. At first, I had a hard time believing it was, but as the symptoms progressed to this crazy, vertical head bobbing (in and out of pasture) there was no denying it. It appears to be a Trigeminal Nerve problem, like Trigeminal Neuralgia in humans--which they sometimes call the suicide disease.

  3. Glad he's doing well for now, and it does sound like the plan has a good chance of working, or at least keeping things at a manageable level.

    Good for your daughter for wanting to pursue a life with horses - my older daughter is doing the same for now.

  4. With a good management plan, you will still find joy with Cowboy, maybe not the way you planned, but he will give you a reason to get out this winter, and make the most of your time with him.
    The younger generation is often what gives us the will to keep on slogging; how blessed for you that your daughter is there at this time.

  5. Linda, if you haven't ordered a Guardian mask yet I'll give you mine. I hate the dang thing. Waste of money, in my opinion. The velcro around the eyes gathers hair, hayseeds, all kinds of stuff. They need a better design. But mine should clean up to be usable, if you want to give it a try. And if you're a neater person than me you could probably keep it from getting too dirty.

  6. Hi Linda,

    I haven't visited in a long time. It's so painful to go through things like this with our beloved animals. I'm glad things are looking up for Cowboy and that your daughter brushed some of your cobwebs away. I know what you mean about the paralysis. I'm also glad you haven't given up on him as so many others would have done.

  7. Thanks, Andrea. I'll take you up on it. Why did you use one? Is it the darkening type?

    Thanks, everyone, for the encouragement about Cowboy. I am lucky to still have him and that he's comfortable.

  8. Glad to hear you've found that spark of interest again. I've gone through similar feelings on and off again since my main trail horse has gone blind. He apparently was slowly losing his sight, which explains a lot about his changing demeanor while being ridden. Sure hope you have success in finding ways to reduce or eliminate your horse's symptoms. That's a fairly unusual issue, but it seems to be happening with increasing frequency. Maybe we're just starting to understand the problem better. Anyway, hope all works out.

  9. I'll get it out and clean it up for you. Are you free on Friday during the day? I need to go to Aslin Finch so will be making a trip up. I could go another day but Friday might be perfect. We could have coffee/lunch at Chaps or something...

    I bought it for Soxy. She's really sensitive to bright light, and every now and then her eyes get pretty inflamed. I think it's an appy thing. Now I just use a dark colored regular mask and she does fine. The Guardian Mask is a darkening one, it's supposed to block something like 70-80% of UV rays. I think it's an excellent idea, I just wish they were built differently.

  10. Linda - I am so glad you are on your way back. Kylie is sure my inspiration to get out there more, if it hadn't been for her I wouldn't of tried barrel racing again. We should do lunch sometime when you are in town.

  11. Andrea--I'll get ahold of you on facebook to get your number so we can make a plan.

    Tina--That would be fun to meet for lunch. Message me on FB with good days. I think Tuesdays and Thursdays are generally good for me.

  12. This is inspiring to me. Thanks for sharing your heartache and fears. We all have them and we NEVER know what is around the corner for our beloved horses... but it does always seem to be SOMETHING.

  13. Cia is a beautiful horse. I'm sure your daughter will have her going in no time.

    I know how you're feeling. It's so hard when we don't know if our horses situation will ever get better or even good enough to trail ride again. Wait and see is hard but hopefully the supplements will help along with the mask. Best wishes for you and Cowboy.

  14. Now that you are armed with how to handle HSS, you can feel some control how to help Cowboy. So sorry you have to deal with it but the information you offered was very helpful to anyone reading your blog. Something I will definitely remember too.

    Sometimes we find motivation and encouragement in places we never expected or when we thought our mind was set one way.Sounds like your daughter fit the bill!


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