Poll Trauma. If you use a halter and tie your horse, your horse has this injury.
“Poll” is defined as the prominent, hairy top or back of the head, and that’s exactly the region that your horse’s halter passes over, just behind his ears. When you tie your horse to a fence or even cross ties in the barn while you’re grooming him, the halter puts a lot of stress onto the poll.
Now, how often does your horse pull away when he’s tied? I don’t know about you, but we see plenty of people at shows and other events that have the horse tied to a fence or the side of the trailer.
While he’s standing there minding his own business, someone or something interesting or even frightening passes by and the horse can’t move quickly enough to get a good look — or getaway. What happens? He pulls back, the ties extend and to their full length, the entire weight of the horse is held by the halter against the back of his head.
Even if you have a nice breakaway halter, your horse still feels like he’s been hit in the back of the head with a baseball bat. His head is bruised and his neck is strained.
Poll Trauma can also be caused by pressure from a heavy bridle, rearing and striking the area on a doorway or overhead, or even banging the head on a manger.
In the horse, the first bones in the animal’s neck are close to the surface and their outline can be clearly seen – and damaged. In the worst cases of poll trauma, a small portion of that bone, called the atlas, may be broken off and displaced. This will naturally cause a very painful condition that includes swelling and inflammation on one or both sides of the middle line.
If the condition continues untreated, the next phase of poll trauma may include infection of the main ligament in the center of the horse’s neck (the ligamentum nuchae), the largest ligament in the body, and this will cause intense pain whenever the horse moves his head, so he will doubtless try to keep it raised high and as immobile as possible.
The final phase may be the formation of a sinus, literally an open channel into the horse’s poll, which serves to drain infected fluids and may ultimately become the channel by which the piece of chipped bone is expelled from the horse’s body. This condition is called Poll Evil, and its appearance is truly as disturbing as it sounds.
What should you do? It depends on the extent of the injury. If you witnessed the horse rearing, flipping over backward and striking the back of his head on the ground or some other object, by all means, get thee to a telephone and call the vet! The vet may recommend an x-ray to verify the extent of the damage and if the atlas bone is indeed chipped, surgery may be required to remove the displaced portion.
If a poll trauma has resulted in chipped bone and remained untreated until the condition has advanced to poll evil and the area is swollen, inflamed and pustulous, please call the vet right away. He will need to make a full examination, prescribe antibiotics and perhaps even recommend surgery.
If your horse has a habit of pulling against his halter, or if you’ve seen him bang his head on overhead and he’s either moving stiffly or showing unusual sensitivity, a vet call may also be a good idea. Don’t tie him – needless to say. It’s best to put him in a stall and arrange his feed at a comfortable height, but avoid putting it in a rack, as he may further injure himself. Additional therapies can be helpful here, though.
Equine Massage Therapy may help alleviate soreness and stiffness in the neck once any critical injury has been ruled out or at least been addressed and treated by the vet. Acupuncture or acupressure is also helpful in relieving muscles soreness symptoms and pain from poll trauma, but a key requirement in successfully treating inflamed and swollen tissue is to increase circulation.
Low Energy Photo Therapy (LEPT) is the best means to increase circulation and vascularity. A number of scientific studies by Medical Schools, Government Institutions, and independent research organizations have shown that this therapy is fast, effective, painless and risk-free.
Gladstone Equine is Central Virginia’s authorized distributor of the STS-2 Equine Therapy System from Sumerel Therapeutics. The STS-2 includes a specifically designed Poll Therapy Unit that’s been nicknamed the Happy Hat. The Poll Therapy Unit (PTU) is self-contained, battery powered, and fits under the halter. The PTU contains a quantity of red and infra-red light emitting diodes that are pulsed at two alternating frequencies.
Before treating with just the PTU, though, a Gladstone Equine Therapist will scan your entire horse to be certain that other areas of his body have not been injured as well. Many times, we have found that a horse’s obvious problem may not be the only issue that needs to be dealt with, so we always scan the whole horse. It won’t cost you any more, and it will eliminate any guesswork.
The Poll Therapy Unit is used throughout the STS-2 treatment process, as it also tends to calm the horse down — often in dramatic fashion due to the endorphin release caused by the use of the lights near the brain and spinal column.
Many farriers now use the PTU when they encounter a horse too excited to trim. They’ll tie the horse in a quiet spot and put the cap on. The farrier then returns 30 minutes later to trim a nice, quiet horse.
Remember, Poll Trauma is present to some degree in all horses that use a halter. Self-inflicted injuries caused by rearing and striking an overhead, repeated banging of the poll on a manger, halter trauma, or too-tight bridles can also result in Poll Trauma. Treatment of obvious injuries should start with a vet call and should be addressed immediately.
Alternative therapies can speed the healing process of Poll Trauma and get your equine friend healthy and happy again as quickly as possible.