Thirty-four, the number of bones that make up the equine skull, a large number for an area that receives little or no attention when assessing the causes of health and mobility issues in horses. The main reason for this is the fact that some believe the skull is merely a protector for the brain and a vehicle for the movement of blood, lymph fluid and nerves. Unless a trauma has occurred causing a break in the skin, this area is often overlooked. It is though gradually gaining recognition as playing a much more complex role and having a far reaching impact on the rest of the body: facilitating the movement of cerebrospinal fluid; adapting to changes due to injury and contributing to the health of the spinal cord and related structures.

As attention to this area gradually grows in the equine world, it is being found that an increasing number of horses have imbalances in their cranial bones whether that be the result of a pull back, a knock to the head, dental issues etc., etc. The result of these imbalances present themselves in a variety of ways ranging from anxiety, unusual levels of spookiness and head shaking to behavioural changes and pain or discomfort in the structural system.

Until about a year ago, my knowledge of the cranial bones was limited. During various training courses on anatomy and physiology, little attention was ever paid to the head. After finding myself continually being drawn to this area though I knew there must be more to it. Whilst I was aware that trauma to the head could be detrimental, it wasn’t until I did specific training in Equine Craniosacral therapy that I started to understand just how much of an impact even a small trauma to the head can have.

One case that has recently highlighted to me just how misunderstood this area is involves a horse I was asked to see for sweating issues. I had seen him before as part of my final year Shiatsu case study on Equine Cushings/PPID. He suffered from extreme sweating but after his first Shiatsu session the sweating stopped, returning a couple of years later but on a much smaller scale. On an initial assessment I noticed how his face was asymmetrical and both his eyes were extremely puffy and swollen. The owner informed me that everything had been tried to reduce the puffiness but in the end the vet put it down to a symptom of his Cushings. Not wanting to focus on this but to just let him guide me, I did a mixed session of Shiatsu and Craniosacral, more of the latter as he settled extremely well and dozed off for some time. By the time the session had ended, one eye had completely gone back to normal, the other was about 80% there (100% within a week). All that had been done was some very gentle, non-invasive craniosacral work!

What this case highlights is the lack of understanding in this area and the need to recognise symptoms of cranial compression so they can be resolved easily and effectively. Since starting out on my craniosacral journey I’m actually finding myself doing more of this therapy than any other, with the results speaking for themselves.

Could your horse be suffering from a cranial imbalance?

There are various signs that your horse could have a cranial imbalance and tests you can do yourself to identify this. So, if you suspect your horse has been suffering from a headache, is lethargic or hasn’t been quite right since knocking his head on a horsebox try out these simple tests:

  • Standing straight on, is his face symmetrical?
  • Is he happy for you to touch his cranium? Is there one side he’s more sensitive to than others?
  • Does he allow you to gently palpate his jaw muscles, around his ears, his poll?
  • Can he rotate towards you without strain?
  • Is he happy in a head-collar?
  • Can you see his ribs move as he breathes in and out?

The results you find do not have to be drastic, even a subtle change can indicate underlying cranial compression. If you’ve tried everything as a solution to an issue but to no avail, then craniosacral therapy could be the answer you’re looking for.