Head Flickinghead flicker looking miserable

This is one of the most awful things to afflict horses and is almost always due to diet.

The worst thing anyone can do with a horse who head flicks, is punish them - they can't help it. The 'flick' is due to a 'charge of electricity' sent down the trigeminal nerve which runs down the side of the face. It is very uncomfortable for the horse and can be made worse by exercise. Some horses flick on cloudy days and others in bright light.

It is perplexing and distressing for all concerned however THERE IS HOPE.

Here we present case studies of three former head flickers who have come right simply through changes made to their diet.




Case Study 1

Dylan becomes a Dream again!

Tracey brought Dylan along to a course back in January. He looked so miserable we retired him to the yard and carried on with a borrowed horse.

Difficult though it was, living on a dairy farm she found a way to eliminate the rye/clover and here is her story, it will give hope to any of you out there struggling with the condition...

'Two years ago my husband and I moved properties.

Shortly after, Dylan my beautiful black thoroughbred arrived. I was lucky enough to acquire him from a polo and show-jumping family who did not have time for him.

After 6 months of settling in I decided it was time to take him out. Lady June Carter, a neighbor with a beautiful property has a local ride every January.

Well what a major disaster! 2 hours of bucking, rearing, head flicking and absolutely crazy behaviour. I just couldn't reason with him.

While walking him home it crossed my mind that maybe he had something seriously wrong like a pinched nerve in his back.

I reduced his feed, adding more fibre, had a vet check, booked a Horse Manipulation Therapist once a week thinking this might help.

But the constant head-flicking and unreasonable behaviour continued. Along with the frustration came loss of confidence and I became generally afraid of him.

The rears were so high, he almost went over backwards. So he was turned out as I had lost my motivation to ride him!

Having run out of ideas I was lucky enough to be invited to attend one of Jenny's nutrition evenings "There are no 'Nutty' Horses".

It was a brilliant evening and it all made sense. So I started feeding the Alleviate and the Premium New-Zealand-Horse Minerals.

Two months went by and what a huge improvement. No bucking, rearing or general agitation. However on sunny, breezy days he head- flicked incessantly. On quiet hacks he was fine. As soon as we entered a dressage arena the flicking got worse...

I decided it was time to build my confidence up again and take him out. I was very nervous floating him to Jenny's Horsemanship course. Especially getting him off the float as he normally shot out like a bullet.

Once again luck was on my side. Jools Topp who did not know me from a bar of soap gave me a hand. We had a calm relaxed horse backing out nicely within 15 mins. I could not believe the difference... Thank you Jools!

Time to enter the inside arena and I had a nervous, spooky, head-flicking horse once again. In fact he was so bad I could not ride him so he rested in the yards with hay and I continued the course with a borrowed horse.

After talking with Jenny I agreed to completely eliminate the rye and clover.

To the point he lived on dirt and only had hay to eat. He stayed on this little track for 4 weeks. I had even purchased a new paddock mate to do show hunter, not knowing that Dylan was going to be OK again!

Wow 2 weeks later we had a completely different horse... I could see the pain disappear from his face. Just like he had a Panadol to get rid of his migraine.

Dylan is now back to a being a dream horse where we can canter without head-flicking or bucking, he has a smile on his face, and is such a pleasure to be around. Plus I have all my confidence back!

My husband Ward, rode Dylan last weekend on a 2 hour trek. He was amazing! I was a little hesitant with his history as Ward is a learner rider... but was just astounded how brilliant he was!!

The odd day goes by where there might be a slight head flick as I believe the damage was quite serious and the odd grass sprout can take effect. But overall we have a calm relaxed, truly amazing horse back.

Thank you so much Emma and Jenny in assisting Dylan become a dream horse again...
Kind regards'


Case Study 2:

'PIPPEN' A Beautiful Quarter-Horse Mare

'Pippen's schooling is low pressure, following my instructors program, of 'soften when they soften', in my 30 minutes, I would trot ten minutes warm up, working on guiding, straight lines etc, asking her to give every now and again, and releasing as soon as she gives, suppling exercises, shoulder and hip control, backing, and loping both ways, encouraging relaxed and happy work. She's an easy going little horse who takes everything in her stride.

Then I noticed, 'the bug up the nose' reaction, a couple of times in one day, that you think nothing of at first.

When I got two days of it in a row.... alarm bells started ringing, as I know of two others that have had huge problems with this, and have spent a fortune following various unsuccessful treatments, one uses a nose net, the other a sun-visor, with varying results.

Sometimes, on the bad days, her ears sort of fell slightly sideways, like she's trying to look down her nose, and she'll flick.

Fortunately for me, one of my best friends had been researching some information and she printed out the "Aspects of pasture that can Adversely Affect Your Horse" article she had found on the this website.

I sent an email off to Jenny Paterson who kindly rang me that night, and explained her experience with her horse, and with much research into other horses, all this just about blowing my mind, as she explained to me what I could try, to help this poor little horse.

Anyway, out of all the list of symptoms, my little horse was only showing the head flicking, and this seemed to come on for no reason that I am able to pinpoint, except maybe that I was letting her graze on full clover, at the end of her daily sessions, while I pottered about doing this and that, sometimes she would get an hour there, sometimes half an hour.

I now know that was enough to cause it.

Suffice to say, I couldn't ignore her plight any longer, and desperately needed help.
I got on the phone, sourcing the things Jenny had advised me to feed, contacted a spray rep, to get advice on which spray to use to kill the clover out of my browntop paddock, bought the spray and sprayed a section of the paddock. Meanwhile Pippen thought her throat had been cut, and took two days to even start eating the hay.....

Using a ten litre bucket, her feed is as follows:
  • 1/3 bucket of pre-soaked Ezy beet
  • 2 cups of nutri-rice all rounder
  • 1 large ice cream container of oaten chaff
  • 1 dessert spoon of soya bean meal
  • 1 large tspoon of AlleviateC (organic calcium and magnesium)
  • 1 medium spoon of ToxDefy toxin binder
  • 1 level tspoon of Devils Claw
  • 1 scoop of Premium NZ Horse Minerals
One month later :

Currently, Pippen and I are still progressing flick free. I will start her back into a schooling programme in the next few days. I have been getting her fitness up with some farm work, and a bit of long trotting, and now feel we are able to get back into it, while our grass stays firm enough to ride on!

Two Years Later :

Pippen was able to continue her training and has been shown in multiple events at many Western Shows. She has competed successfully in horsemanship, trail and reining. She is an easy non fuss horse to show. A very happy ending for an ex head-flicker!!!'

Thank you Jenny and Provideit!

Case Study3:

'I have owned Tom for nearly 4 years. I purchased him knowing that he could be quite spooky.
I suspected he could be a head flicker and mentioned this to the vet during his pre purchase evaluation but nothing showed up during the vetting.

He came to our property at the end of March. Our 11 acres is ex dairy farm so the pasture has lots of rye and clover which is being taken over by Kikuyu and paspalam.

At first Tom's head flicking was fairly minor – just a slightly exaggerated response to anything that went in front of his face. Through the winter he seemed OK.
Towards the end of his first summer here he had a major crisis.

He had been grazing on very short grass during very hot, humid, drizzly weather. I had brought him in to ride and he suddenly became highly agitated. Even the slightest stimuli sent him into in a panic. He was also snorting as if sensing real danger. The snorting continued constantly for at least 12 hours.
He need to be heavily sedated by the vet twice to get him to where he was less distressed. To say his life was at risk would be an understatement. It took 48 hours and regular oral sedation before he was himself again.

I knew all about rye grass staggers but I needed no further evidence to convince me that I had a horse that was highly sensitive to changes in pasture. The other 2 horses grazing with him showed no changes whatsoever.

From then on I made sure I moved him off paddocks before they got very short. This made him rideable, but he was still spooky and would snort and flick a lot through the spring and summer.

I battled on with his dressage training but was becoming increasingly nervous and my confidence was all but gone. 
When I found a trainer with expertise in true horsemanship things really turned around for us. Teresa believed that a lot of his behaviour was grass related. I finally accepted that I had to get him off the grass through Spring and Summer. I put in a track system and fed him hay only doing my best to minimize his pasture intake.

It also became evident that the sunlight affected him badly and worsened the head flicking. This is known as ‘phototropic head flicking’. I put him in a mask both during the day and when I rode him. I immediately found he was so much more comfortable and relaxed. I fed him Premium NZ Horse minerals, GrazeEzy and Mycosorb and I was very happy with our progress. Through combining this with good horsemanship, Tom had become a very happy horse who was a pleasure to ride and handle in any situation.

When talking with Jenny about whether XtraCal might help him she suggested I try him on AlleviateC SOS as the limited pasture he had access to was very high in potassium. 
I removed all lucerne from his feed and started him on the SOS in Spring 2015.

As soon as he was up to the full dose I noticed a marked improvement. He was more consistent in his behaviour and was snorting far less when ridden. 
While his flicking had stopped he would always snort a lot in the first 10 - 15 minutes of a ride. I stopped using the SOS at the end of December as it seemed to have brought about the desired result. When I met up with Jenny at the North Island Buck Brannaman clinic in Janury this year, she explained that I should be able to get Tom to a point where he should be good to ride without wearing his mask.

As soon as I got home I put him back on SOS. Within a week the snorting had reduced. I was also able to gradually reintroduce him to pasture. Just before dark I would let the horses into a paddock and put them back onto the track first thing in the morning. He has been on this grazing regime for over 2 weeks now. I will be monitoring him carefully though as we are having very humid moist weather at the moment.

I recently attended a 5 day clinic and on the last 2 days I rode Tom without his mask. There was not a flick or snort the whole time. Tom was one of the calmest and most well behaved of all the horses in attendance. I was very proud of him.

Owning a head flicker is a real challenge and managing them requires customizing his grass intake according to the season and the weather. Even vets with expertise in the matter have every little to offer in the way of advice let alone solutions. One local equine vet's response to owners, is to shoot the horse!

I am so glad that I didn't give up on Tom. He is a beautiful, useful horse who has given me years of enjoyment and taught me so much. I will continue to give him SOS until the end of Autumn and will reintroduce it at the first sign of a return of his symptoms. I am hugely appreciative of Jenny's advice and support.'

Anna McKee, Auckland

Case Study4:

There is a Cure for Head-Flicking

'I hope that my story can help head flicking horses and their poor demented owners from going through what I have for the last 12 months.

Early in 2009 my then 6 yr old mare Image, started flicking her head. At first I didn't know what it was, I put it down to bugs or moths in the grass, then thought she was being evasive or naughty. I bred her myself and she had no history of doing this previously.

However, when I think back she did other odd things such as being extremely "clingy" and screaming out for her mates and she also used to swish her tail constantly when being ridden. I just put these things down to being "mare-ish" or young and thought she'd grow out of it.

She would also scratch herself incessantly until her tummy was bald.

Unfortunately because I had not experienced head-flicking before, I didn't take any action until she was very sick. She got to the stage where she was practically un-rideable because she would throw her head so violently then suddenly stop and drag her nose along the ground.

We checked her teeth, I had her scoped but she was clean, I tried 3 - 4 different drugs but the only one that gave some relief was the anti-histamine that made her so dopy that she wasn't safe to jump.

She was also very photo-sensitive and couldn't stand the light. When we took her inside out of the light she would stand with her head hanging & her ears out to the side as if she had a massive headache.

I was advised that there was very little that could be done and that most head-flickers usually just got worse & worse until they were put down! Well this was not an option for me, I bred this mare out of my hunter and she was a fantastic hunter herself until this happened, she deserved a chance.

It took a very long time but by the time winter came around the head-flicking seemed to have "switched off", so I managed to get the end of the hunt season on her.

This year I decided to get onto it at the first sign of a flick, sure enough around 3rd January, she started. So I got onto Jenny Paterson through another head-flicking owner who had done a lot of research into the problem.

From that day on, Image lived in a covered yard and had free access to as much old stalky "cow hay" as she wanted. We used to feed pre-mixed feeds (laced with molasses) and sugar beet.
At Jenny's suggestion, I started feeding her

In reality we've just gone back to basics with her feeding plan, nothing fancy.

We are in week 13 now of eating "nothing green" especially NO Lucerne (she had a relapse about 3 weeks ago after 4 days of a handful of Lucerne chaff in her feed).

In week 11 I started letting her out in the paddock for half an hour each day ? the paddock has only rank dry brown top grass only, she is now up to 3 hrs each day. I took Image out to her first hunt for the season on Tuesday - I was really worried that the excitement and stress might set the HS off.

I was wrong! She was AMAZING, we had the most awesome day and at the end there were only 5 people left following the master and I was one of them!

We jumped some really difficult fences in awkward spots including a couple of full wires, one with an electric outriggers on the other side, another on the side of a hill no problem.
And NOT ONE head flick all day.

She felt the most energetic and enthusiastic that she ever has, it was like riding a kangaroo, she had so much spring over the fences!

Another thing that I noticed is that not once did she swish her tail and normally it goes flat out all day like the key on a wind up toy.

So she must be feeling so much better within herself as well to have stopped the tail swishing as well and she never once called out for her mates.

All these other little side issues - the tail swishing, the screaming out, the incessant scratching must have all been caused by the grass as well.

Ironically, I did try taking her off the grass last year but only after she had become really bad and I only stuck with it for 2 weeks.
When there was no change in her after 2 weeks, the veterinary opinion was that it "wasn't the grass that was causing it then" so I let her out again!!!

Jenny says it can take anywhere from 8-12 weeks for the mineral balances to come back to normal and the inflammation of the trigeminal nerve to settle down and the flicking to disappear.

So if you have a head-flicker, don't despair, there is hope but you just have to be diligent and stick with it. All it's going to cost you is your time and effort. If anyone would like to discuss this with me, feel free to ask Jenny for my phone number.
THANK YOU JENNY for giving me my horse back!!!
Kindest Regards
Allison Lozell
Sea Horse Sea Freight Ltd