Following a Trail of Clues

Debbie won't have to try the double bridle after all.

I did not get my lesson on Wednesday because of rain (we NEED the rain so I'm not complaining.) When Debbie called me up to reschedule my lesson we got to talking about her problem mare. This mare, Tilly, had been doing head-shaking, rather violent head-shaking, whenever she was turned to the right. Her head-shaking got so bad that none of Debbie's students wanted to ride the mare. Debbie tried changing bits, which did not work, and finally decided to try Dr. Green since she had another mare who was retired to a pasture to let her life work out. The other mare got worse and worse and they finally put her down, and brought Tilly back home with some hope of reclaiming her as a lesson horse.

Well Debbie had told me last week they had tried the mare in the lesson and her head-shaking was no better. She did find a bit that the mare accepted, a Happy Mouth, but nothing she tried worked on the head-shaking when the mare turned right. They had tried a nose net previously before the mare's long vacation but that did not do anything good either. We discussed Tilly during the rescheduling call since I had done some research on the web about the problem. We discussed photic head-shaking which is controllable by a face mask that blocks up to 95% of UV light, but Debbie did not think the head-shaking was caused by light. Then we discussed the trigeminal nerve and I told her that I thought the Fenwick Face Mask with Ears might help if that nerve was a problem.

When I told Debbie what Shannon had told me, Debbie's memory got triggered. Several years ago Tilly's rider had not checked out the stall at a horse show for dangers for a horse, and Tilly got a long cut on her right ear, a cut severe enough that the veterinarian had to put in several stitches. When the ear healed up and looked like it was back to normal the head-shaking started, always when the mare turned to the right. Debbie had not connected the two—the ear cut and the head-shaking—but in Debbie's defense there are around 38 or so horses at her barn that she takes care of, and sometimes it is hard to figure out one horse's peculiarities in all the noise of all the other horses.

But now it all came together, the right ear being injured, the stitching up of the ear, and the ensuing problems ALL triggered when the mare was turned to the right, and only when the mare was turned to the right. I repeated my recommendation of trying the Fenwick Face Mask with Ears and I reminded Debbie how this face mask had helped Bingo get over his extreme ear-shyness. I told her to try it for a while because it took Bingo a few rides wearing it before he started enjoying me handling his ears instead of just tolerating it.

Debbie used the face mask on Tilly the next lesson. The mare did not shake her head turning right until the end of the hour long lesson and apparently Tilly did not shake her head as strongly as she usually did it. I got the impression that between the Happy Mouth bit and the face mask with ears Tilly looked like a normal horse instead of a head flinging dragon.

Debbie was GREATLY encouraged, this is the first real progress they've made with the head-shaking. She is hopeful that it keeps working, but she told me that the mare could not wear the face mask when showing. However shows do allow the horses to wear ear bonnets, and we are fortunate that the Fenwick people also make the Fenwick “Liquid Titanium Therapeutic Ear Bonnet” which Debbie can buy, it is more expensive than normal ear bonnets ($55.00 USD) but if it works it is well worth the extra cost to get the mare back into the shows.

My main worry about going just to an ear bonnet is that it does not really cover much of the TMJ joint or the trigeminal nerve. Fortunately the Fenwick people also make the Fenwick “Liquid Titanium TMJ Wrap” that is wrapped around the top of the cheek pieces of the bridle right below the brow band. I imagine that Debbie will just want to try the ear bonnet first, but if the mare reacts worse than with the Fenwick Face Mask with Ears, it would give us something to add to try and address the trigeminal nerve.

This all goes to show that an apparently minor injury can have long lasting effects on a horse even after the minor injury is healed. I do not know what else happened to Tilly's right ear to cause the head-shaking, for all I know Tilly's right ear may still hurt from the original cut/stitches. All I know is that I have seen some amazing results from using the technical Far Infra Red Fabrics, both the Back on Track stuff and the Fenwick stuff.

I know it can be hard to get a truly detailed history about every injury a horse suffered in its life when a person buys a mature horse. A lot of injuries are small and heal up quite well with no long-lasting effects on the horse. But some injuries have lingering effects, causing the horse pain and distress throughout the horse's life. This might be a reason why horses get sold on, the horse has a problem, the owner and veterinarians cannot figure it out, they try this and that, and finally give up and figure that the horse has to step down several steps, and the owner tries to find the horse a good, less challenging home. Sometimes stepping back works and the horse recovers its physical abilities, but other times the ghosts of an old injury can affect the horse its whole life.

Life with horses would be SO MUCH EASIER for us if only the horses could talk! Then we would not have to spend months or years trying to figure out what in the hell went wrong with the horse.

Tilly is lucky, Debbie does not like giving up on a horse. She kept the horse, suffered failure from her earlier attempts to make Tilly better, but Debbie kept on trying and giving Tilly chances.

I hope we have come up with a satisfactory solution and Tilly now becomes a treasured lesson/show horse for Debbie's horseless riders.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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