Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony. ~ Thomas Merton

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Nutrition and Cricket's Headshaking

I have fielded several questions about my nutrition program with Cricket so I've decided just to post about it.

When Cricket began headshaking for the second time, I began an 18 month journey into every aspect of my care and treatment of my horse. Initial attempts to treat just the behavior were wildly unsuccessful and often resulted in increased frustration for me and more violent headshaking from Cricket.

The hardest part about dealing with this issue was the seeming lack of connection between each episode. I couldn't tie it to the weather or the time of day or even Cricket's heat cycles.

The beginning of my nutritional odyssey started when I found a website that linked head rubbing with head shaking. The website, which I've since lost, was for a woman in England who practiced Traditional Chinese Medicine. In an email exchange she helped me see Cricket's head rubbing not as itchiness but as an attempt to interrupt the misfiring of her trigeminal nerve. She cautioned me to cease all vaccinations and all chemical dewormers as Cricket's system was too delicate to tolerate the toxins.

On a whim I searched for "headshaking" in the Savvy Club vault and it yielded a brief article from Linda talking about headshaking in horses that are very sensitive but tend to hold everything inside. And that's when I started to understand that this is my horse - highly sensitive and yet extremely internal.

And it was then that I began to see the inextricable link between the physical, the mental and the emotional.

It was all tied together when I read an article in The Horse. It was fascinating research on equine headshaking. And it made total sense. Dr. Madigan of UC Davis, recommended nutritional support to raise the threshold for the firing of the trigeminal nerve. Based on his recommendations and other research, I made some changes to my nutrition program

The two main additions to Cricket's nutrition program were Magnesium and Spirulina.

I feed Cricket 4 oz of Quiessence from Foxden Equine. This provides Cricket with 5 mg of chelated Magnesium and 15 mg of Magnesium Oxide. Magnesium plays a role in muscle function and digestion. Stored in the muscle fibre, Magnesium assists the muscle tissue in returning to a relaxed state following contraction. It also works in the digestive tract to clear glucose from the blood stream. Low levels of Magnesium can contribute to higher blood glucose levels which leads to metabolic issues and an increase in fatty deposits at the crest, shoulder and tail head. Low Magnesium also affects the muscle's ability to relax and Magnesium-deficient horses can be hyper, excitable, nervous and fractious.

She also gets 20 g of Spirulina. Spirulina is available in different forms - wafers and bulk powder. The wafers might be easier to feed but the bulk powder is much cheaper. Spirulina is considered a super food and provides the body with amazing levels of essential nutrients. It is beneficial to the immune system and aids the body in dealing with stress.

Cricket continues to receive Dynamite for her basic vitamin and mineral needs along with Chastetree Berry for her hormonal support. Unrelated to her headshaking but something I will continue is some form of Omega 3 supplementation. Due to pasture depletion and the over-processing of most equine feed, our horses' diets are too high in Omega-6 and not nearly high enough in Omega-3. While both are essential fatty acids, present in the wrong ratio they do not function effectively in the horse's system. A main function of Omega-3 is to control inflammation. Without sufficient Omega-3, the body tries to use Omega-6 but the function of Omega-6 is to promote inflammation.

Note: I am not an equine nutritionist. I have researched headshaking and possible treatments through nutrition. I have made decisions for my horse based on my research and consultation with professionals when I felt necessary.

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