A SPECIAL POST BY MARIJKE VAN DE WATER, B.SC., DHMS
Question: I have an 18 year old horse who has been head shaking for several months. He only used to do it when we rode but it is now almost constant. I’ve tried everything from diet changes to medications but have had no success. I am at a loss as to how I can help him.
Answer from Marijke van de Water: Head-shaking syndrome symptoms include flinging and jerking the head – sometimes violently – sneezing, scratching, nose-rubbing and any other activities that seem to give them relief, including blowing the nose, holding the nose under water or sticking their heads into trees or corners. They often become lethargic and/or depressed as the constant discomfort “gets them down”. Many of these horses have been tested with blood work, X-rays, scopes and/or scans but unfortunately most times there are no positive results.
Nearly every head-shaking horse that I have worked with is suffering from allergy symptoms in the nasal passages and sinuses: tickling, itching, stinging and/or burning. These sensations can range in intensity from mild to very severe. They are caused by allergic reactions to inhalant allergies such as dust, pollens, molds and sometimes feathers. However, most “head shakers” have a particular problem with molds and mold spores which is why they have the most trouble in the spring and then again in the fall. There are over 400,000 types of molds and while many of them can survive year-around in warmer climates, in most parts of Canada they lie dormant in the winter. Mold spores are abundant everywhere – hay, grass, air and soil – and they often outnumber the pollen count. Some spores prefer dry wind, some need high moisture or fog, and some even disperse in the rain.
Mold spores are very small and microscopic and are therefore able to evade the protective mechanisms of the nose, sinuses and respiratory tract causing chronic irritation. It is likely that most horses (similar to people) acquire these allergies during a time that their immune systems have been compromised – illness, poor nutrition or over-medication for example. The immune system then becomes hyper-reactive to particles which are normally innocuous to the healthy horse.
The first step in treating a horse with HSS is to neutralize the allergy reaction. One of the most effective ways to offset any sensitivity to an allergen is through homeopathy – in other words, using dilutions made from the original substance that is causing the symptoms – in this case the mold spore itself. Since it is impossible to identify exactly which different molds are creating the problem I use a dilution prepared from three common molds that can cause the same symptoms as any other mold. The Riva’s Homeopathic Mold Combination and the Riva’s Allerg-Ease both contain mold dilutions. The Allerg-Ease also contains homeopathic pollens and dust along with remedies to improve overall immunity.
Secondly, the immune system must be boosted. Helpful herbs include raw garlic (anti-fungal, antibiotic and anti-viral); goldenseal which is excellent for irritation of the mucous membranes; astragalus which strengthens the immune defences; and milk thistle which is a liver detoxifier and also helps block the actual reaction to the allergen. Herbs are very beneficial when used together in a blend. It is also helpful to correct any nutrient deficiencies, especially those that have a marked effect upon the immune system such as iron, iodine, selenium and/or zinc. Also, avoid high sugar feeds – which depress the immune system – and any yeast-based supplements since these horses have most often become allergic to all yeasts and fungi. On the correct program improvements are usually quite rapid. Your horse will thank you.
Marijke van de Water (B.Sc., DHMS) is an Equine Health & Nutrition Specialist, Homeopathic Practitioner and Medical Intuitive. She is the author of “Healing Horses: Their Way!” and is a regular speaker at equine seminars and conferences.
Marijke van de Water, B. Sc., DHMS
Equine Health Consultant
Ph. # 1-800-405-6643