Horse Head Injuries

The Square-Sounding Part Of Your Horse's Head That Can Alert You To A Life-Threatening Injury

In last week's article on horse head injuries, I introduced you to a horse with a skull fracture. And even though horse head injuries like that one appear pretty gruesome on the outside, the horse's brain emerged from the incident unscathed. Today, I'll tell you why and how you use this information to know whether or not your equine vet needs to come to your barn for an emergency call in the even of a head injury.

Your horse is a pretty good sized animal. So you would think he has a pretty good sized brain. He doesn't. Even a 2000-pound Clydesdale has a brain about the size of a baked potato. Not to sound flippant, but that's one reason horses don't sustain many serious brain injuries. There just isn't that much brain up there to injure.

But thankfully, the single most important part of the horse's skeleton is also the strongest. It's the assembly of bones and connective tissue known as the "brain box."

The brain box consists of a series of bones and a lot of fiber-osseus tissue that protect the brain extremely well. The parietal bone protects it from the top. The occipital bone has its back.

The bottom is shielded by the base of the mandible (jawbone - not shown in this picture) along with all of the spongy cartilage, ligaments, and tendons that allow the jaw to move up and down freely.

Your horse's ligaments and tendons act kind of like shock absorbers for your car. The more healthy ligaments and tendons your horse has in the brain box, the more likely he is to come out of a head injury without any real brain damage to speak of.

That's the upside. Here's the downside…

The brain box, as strong as it is, is rather small; there's not a lot of unused space in the middle of all those bones and protective tissue. If your horse hits his head hard enough, his brain will swell. And there's not a lot of room for it to do that. This, more than anything else, complicates treatment. And for horses who have sustained permanent brain damage - this unchecked swelling is the most likely reason.

In order for a horse to hurt himself badly enough to cause brain swelling, his head has to impact a hard surface at high speed. That almost always come when a horse rears so high that he falls over backwards and tags his head on a wall, a fallen log, or a concrete floor.

If he connects with the immovable object with enough velocity to damage the brain box, he could give himself a brain hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain box), which means swelling. That is a true emergency: if your horse has swelling in the area of the brain box (see above graphic), you need to get your vet to your horse pronto.

You might be asking "Sierra, how can I prevent this from happening to my horse?"

Glad you asked. The short answer is control rearing on or near hard surfaces.

You know better than anyone what scares your horse. And while you can never be totally sure what he'll spook at, you can take some action if he gets out of hand.

If you're horse is in close quarters and becomes just a little spooked, you can probably calm him down with a gentle hand and pleasant tone of voice.

But if your horse is so mortified that all he wants to do is rear and you can't stop him from doing it, get him out of the area as quickly as you can. And if he's on a concrete surface, get him off of it. ASAP.

Take all horse head injuries seriously. Just because the brain box is very strong doesn't mean it he can't injure it. If your horse hits his head hard enough - God forbid - it could, indeed, result in swelling of the brain. Equine vets have a hard time treating these injuries. I'm sure when I graduate from vet school, I'll eventually have to do it. But I'm not looking forward to it, that's for sure.

Yours for Better Horse Care,

Sierra Lynch

Sierra Lynch makes it easy to keep your horse healthy and happy. With over 16 years experience riding and caring for horses, Sierra will make sure your horse is always ready to ride. Visit Sierra on the web at Horse IQ

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