For 6 months I searched for my dream dressage horse. I was in my 50s and wanted a horse that was well trained and fun to ride. This was to be my last horse purchase so the age had to be around 10 so we could grow old together". A broker called me and said she found the perfect horse for me. I made arrangements to go down to Wellington on Monday to try him.
Rubinski was truly a dream horse. He had been shown at the Intermediate Level and scored well. He was 10 years old and fun to ride. He was handsome and sweet. The owner made a call to a veterinarian at Palm Beach Equine He would be vetted on Thursday. The arrangements happened quickly because supposedly the horses were to ship up north on Friday, so I had to make a decision right away. I knew better than to do that but I was in love and blind to anything but having Rubinski come home with me.
Rubinski passed the vetting, and I shipped him to my barn on the weekend. Everything was great for the first two months. Then he started shaking his head horizontally in August. It was like the hair from his forelock and top part of his mane was bothering his ears. I braided these areas but it continued. Out in the pasture he seemed to shake his head in response to the bugs. I noticed it but did not think too much about it.
Then the bizarre happened. I went to bring Rubinski in from the paddock and he was extremely irritated and difficult to lead. The shaking of his head was out of control. When I put him in the stall he started to shake his head and entire neck vertically. It was so extreme that I thought he was having a seizure! His eyes would roll back in his head and his front feet would come off the ground every time his head went up. His hind end would lift up every time his head went down. This continued for hours. Could it be West Nile or some other neurological condition? It was totally involuntary and I stood in disbelief and horror. I noticed that if I turned the lights in the barn off, he was fine. When I turned them on he started this bizarre behavior. This was my introduction to the light sensitivity associated with headshaking syndrome. I ran in the house and got on the internet and looked up headshaking and so started my unrelenting search that has lasted over a year for the clues to unravel this mysterious and devastating disorder.
I took Rubinski to the University of Florida vet school and had labs run and a thorough exam done. All returned normal. He was started on carbamazapine (Tegretol). After 1 month he still had the symptoms of flipping his nose like a bug ran up it whether he was ridden or just in the pasture. Since he also had headshaking in the pasture I ruled out riding or tack issues. He also was very lethargic and definitely not himself due to the medication. We tried Cyproheptidine alone and in combination with the Tegretol. No change. I tried acupuncture which seemed to help him with his ulcers and sweating but not directly with the headshaking. I tried the guardian mask. No luck. I tried a half nose net. No change. I did finally find a full nose net that worked right away so I was happy that after 7 months I was able to ride Rubinski again. I tried melatonin and magnesium but did not see any changes at all. I did allergy tests due to the seasonal nature of the disorder and the nasal drainage associated and they did show he had numerous allergies to trees and grasses. We started him on allergy desensitization shots. These take about 1 year to show results. I tried a month of prednisone which helped but the headshaking reoccurred after the tapering. I tried inhaled steroids so he could be on the steroids longer. They helped but not completely.
I am happy to say that after 1 year of research I have a treatment that has been and continues to be successful and Rubinski has been in remission for 3 years. I am now committed to helping others who have been unfortunate in having a horse that has this disorder. I developed this website and center, not for monetary reasons, but so that horses and their owners can be helped and not have to go through the pain and suffering that Rubinski and I went through.