I have a CDI quality mare with horrible headshaking syndrome. She’s had her neck injected, shock wave therapy, a nose net, is on Platinum Steady (magnesium/boron) and nothing has worked. Anything touching her poll sets her off, fly masks, halter and her bridle. My trainer has taken her anatomical bridle and placed foam on it behind her ears which keeps the pressure off of her poll. Voila! A brand new horse! How can I get permission from judges/TD to allow this to be used at a show?

Hi, as it happens, USDF Connection is working on a story on headshaking. The writer is looking for riders/trainers to interview who are dealing with this issue. If you would be amenable, please e-mail me at jbryant AT usdf.org.
Jennifer Bryant
Editor, USDF Connection


I’d call USDF as a start. In general, TDs are pretty cool about things that make life easier/more comfortable (think chin pads and loose cavesons) for the horse say as opposed to electric spurs :grimacing: and that kind of stuff.

I’m going through the same thing, although I think we’ve narrowed the trigger to an allergy and are getting that under control so now we’re dealing with the secondary issue of an irritated trigeminal nerve.

Also, there’s a Facebook group on Equine Headshaking Syndrome that you may want to check out.

Good luck. It’s simply heartbreaking.


It’s actually probably USEF you need-- you will need to talk to the USEF dressage liaison (you should be able to find info on the website).

Couple of things - be very careful regarding the supplements that you use - the list of forbidden substances for competition is long and changes fairly regularly.

You’ll need to contact USEF, not USDF. USEF are the ones in charge of the rules regarding equipment, but I believe that currently the only dispensation allowed for headshaking is a nose net. The only place you can have anything other than leather or leather-like material actually touching the horse is on a figure eight noseband, under the disc.

If that is the case, you’ll likely need to see if there is some type of padded crownpiece that falls under the leather-like rules. Like - maybe get the crownpiece modified so the foam is under the bit hanger strap (padded is permitted - it just needs to be covered by leather or leather-like material) and then cover the foam with some very soft material that will fall under the allowed equipment. Of course you would need to confirm with USEF if that would still meet the letter of the equipment rules.

If you get to the point that you want to enter a CDI - that will fall under FEI rules and you’ll have to confirm with them what is acceptable equipment.

yeah, yeah, I said “for a start”. I’ve found USDF personnel to be the ones that actually know the dressage rules. YMMV. Sheesh, do people really think the dressage rules are written by USEF with no coordination with USDF?

Also, if you want to use a nose net, you need a note from a vet stating the horse has been diagnosed as a head shaker.

Not so, felt or rubber pads under chin straps are legal and widely used. Not to mention saddle pads which are non leather and do touch the horse. Either way, best to check with the governing body.

d*mn… everyone needs to take a breath tonight on this board…

I think we posted at essentially the same time, or mine took a while to upload, as I did not see your response before I wrote mine.

I never said USDF had no input, but as the USEF - the governing body for rules- read right now, on the bridle, the crown piece must be leather or leather-like. I actually checked before I answered the OP. The rules are from USEF, not USDF, as you are well aware.

I was trying to provide OP with some info so they can try to find a solution that will allow the horse to get into the show ring under the current rules. That doesn’t mean the rules won’t evolve

The rulebook contradicts itself right now (shocking, I know) DR 121.3 says that anything that touches the horse, in relation to the bridle, must be leather or leather-like other than a small sheepskin disc on a figure eight nosebleed or the buckles. DR 121.9 seems to say a chin pad that is not leather or leather-like is fine. It says nothing about crownpiece.

@atlatl You’re well informed and knowledgeable - so you’re well aware that nosebands, bits, and crownpieces can have a dramatic effect on a horse vs the mostly decorative browband and cheek pieces. I’ve always thought your input on dressage board has been intelligent, thoughtful, and helpful, so I’m sorry if you thought I was making a comment directed at you. I truly wasn’t at all. I acknowledge that maybe I could have been a bit more precise in my answer.

The problem often arises with posters who think, understandably so, that USDF is in charge of the rules and then end up tripped up at a show. They don’t find a rule on USDF and assume they are fine. I saw a girl just this last weekend who got eliminated for a bit that a tack vendor assured her was legal for competition. I saw multiple dress and tack violations because the rules are either vague or contradict each other. The two DR 121 sections I mentioned are merely one example.

1 Like

Fair enough, apologies for the snitty response.

Where I think the OP has a good chance is where the rules state that the crown piece may be padded:

  1. Bridle. Permitted bridles and bits must be used in a conventional manner. The headstall and noseband must be made of leather or leather-like material except the buckles, wear tabs on cheek pieces and reins, and a small disk of sheepskin used at the intersection of the two leather straps of a crossed noseband. Nylon or other non-metallic material may be used to reinforce leather in the headstall but must not come in direct contact with the horse. Elastic inserts are permitted only in the crownpiece and cheekpieces. Bit snaps, buckles, or hooks/studs to attach cheekpieces to the bit are permitted.
    a. Crownpiece. The crownpiece of the bridle must lie immediately behind the poll and may extend forward onto the poll, but it may not be fitted to lie on the vertebrae behind the skull (Figure 121.6). The crownpiece may be padded and it may have elastic inserts.

Again, the concept being that things that make a piece of equipment more severe are what are targeted as no-nos.

I agree that taking a vendor’s word that something is legal is, at best, an optimistic proposition! I’ve had vendors assure me something was legal when I had literally checked with a TD the week previous and been told it was not!

Be well!

My horse is a headshaker.

He responds well to nose nets but certain nose nets that apply pressure to his nostrils. Not all of them do this. I keep it on all of the time. Which nose net did you use?

Allergies seem to exacerbate the head shaking. He’s most prone spring and sometimes fall. When he is, I administer cyproheptadine, which greatly helps. I very much recommend cyproheptadine when she has flare ups, as this is a typical treatment for head shakers.

If your horse is a photic head shaker, riding her with mask that blocks UV to her eyes can help. As far as I know, treatments for head shakers are fine with the USDF with a note from your vet. I’m not sure about your foam headstall and I’m not sure how that would work. Headshaking is due to trigeminal nerve misfiring which I’m not sure is helped by a padded poll piece but hey, if your vet can attest to some efficacy, your vet can try writing a letter for the TDs.

I just saw that there is an update to the USEF rules on equipment.

This may be of interest to the OP:

I ride my competition horses in Finesse bridles. They have a super wide foam padding in the head piece, it is some kind of memory foam and about 1 inch thick so it sticks up a bit. My horses seem much more comfortable in it. These are competition legal


I think a note from your vet makes most things legal, including nosenets.