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Please Help! Horse Facial Nerve Pain?

Okay so this is going to be a long one, but I’m really at a loss here.

I’ve owned my Dutch Warmblood gelding for almost three years and he’s taken me from the 2’6 modified children’s to the juniors and derbies. He’s always had quirks, but one that has been ongoing is this thing he does completely randomly.

When we first got him, he would put his head between his legs and twist it around as if he was gearing up to buck, but never would, and he would do this after every single jump. He was started very poorly and mistreated, so we started him over and the issue mostly subsided. He would still do it every now and then if I made a big enough mistake or if he had lots of energy, but not like before. I began showing him and he was near perfect for me every ride and we thrived.

One day, the issue returned kind of out of nowhere. We were at a show and he schooled beautifully on the Friday we got there. The following Saturday and Sunday he was a completely different horse. After every jump, he would either land and plant his front feet as if to try and get me off (I don’t know how he didn’t) or he would land after the jumps and take off running and hopping up and down.

The vet misdiagnosed him first with a fractured tooth and in need of a double fasciotomy in both his hind legs. He had the procedure done and was on stall rest for about a month before we slowly brought him back to work. Once we began to jump him again, the issue immediately came back, so we had our dentist out again to look at him after he threw me (even while I was riding in a bit-less bridle to see if that would help). Our dentist said that he had an abscess that had turned into a sinus infection and it would need to be drained by having a hole drilled through his skull. He had the procedure, and was on stall rest for another month before we brought him back again, thinking he would be fixed.

The problem only worsened from here and we decided it was time we consult a new vet. We found a wonderful woman who right away discovered that his problem was in fact a nerve issue that gave him unpredictable pain when he jumped. She prescribed Gabapentin, and after about two weeks, we saw instant results. After about 5 months, we were back where we left off, showing in the juniors successfully with zero issues.

We decided to wean him off the medication to see if his nerve was healed, and about two weeks after he had been off of the pills, he threw me at a show and I ended up in the hospital for a dislocated elbow. We put him back on the pills (even more than he was taking before) and saw no change.

Now we have reached a place where he is taking about 12 pills a day and whenever I ride him, I can only ride him completely on the buckle without facing issues from him. While on the buckle, I have found that I can jump him however high with zero issue whatsoever, but once I go to gather up the reins and put him to work, he roots and quickens his pace until it’s as if he’s running away from my hands.

Our vet is still on the case, but if anyone else has experienced something like this, it would be incredibly helpful to here about other things such as this! I believe it could be related to trigeminal neuralgia as well, so if anyone has had experience with treatment for that that has worked, that could be beneficial as well.

Any help is appreciated.

Only upon landing? Never any other time? And now when medicated, only if you have contact?

Anyone blocked his front feet? Looked at his neck (including poll)?

BTW, if you are/were showing rated shows (since you mention juniors and derbies), gabapentin is not a legal medication.

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When the vet mentioned facial nerve pain did she say trigeminal mediated headshaking? This involves pain in the trigeminal nerve. Cyproheptadine has been shown to be successful in many cases, and is used with gabapentin as well.

In our case we had a lot of things going on, including ulcers and lameness. Once the ulcers were fully healed and we increased the cypro, the facial nerve pain stopped completely. I also had a very thorough lameness exam isolating the sore areas in legs/back which we are treating one by one. I think all these things combined somehow trigger the pain in the trigeminal nerve.

Best of luck to you…multiple issues and vet bills gone awry are frustrating and emotionally draining.

I’m so sorry. I had to put my young horse down because of Trigeminal nerve pain and other weird issues that we couldn’t get control of. I hope that it’s a good sign that you’ve had some success with medication. I wish you and your horse the best. I know how frustrating this type of thing can be.