New Study May Hold Hope For Headshakers

Horses are notoriously sensitive creatures, with their face, legs and flanks especially receptive to touch, heat and pressure.

A new study has been completed that measures equine facial sensitivity to touch, pressure and heat; it’s hoped that results could help idiopathic headshakers. Horses that suffer from headshaking are believed to be have a hypersensitivity of the trigeminal nerve, reports The Horse.

Dr. Kata O. Veres-Nyéki and her research team measured the facial sensitivity and nerve functions of horses using handheld devices. These testing methods allow the researchers to detect differences in tolerance and also to determine if pain relief measures are successful.

The scientists used 34 Warmblood horses in their study, ranging in age from 1 to 23 years old. They tested how sensitive the horses were to touch using a thin, flexible stick called a von Frey filament. Thermodes, which are medical heating devices, were pressed gently against the horse’s face and warmed from 86 degrees F to 141 degrees F to determine how sensitive they were to heat. Pressure sensitivity was tested using a handheld algometer, which gradually increased the pressure placed on a silicone tip.

All three tests were stopped when a horse reacted in any way to the contact; this included twitching, blinking reactively or moving the head away. Age did affect horse’s tolerance level to all three tactics, with horses becoming more tolerant as they aged. It’s suspected that this is due to cumulative damage to the nervous system.

The scientists pinpointed that tactile sensitivity is best tested on the nostril; pressure sensitivity is best measured on each side of the jaw; and heat sensitivity best measures on the forehead over the eye. Veres-Nyéki notes that facial sensitivity testing of individual horses may help diagnose nerve sensory abnormalities.

The study team noted that clipping horses may limit their sensitivity. Additionally, they suggest that riders and trainers consider using gentler equipment on the heads of younger horses as their sensitivity thresholds are lower than aged horses.

Read more at The Horse.

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