Head Flicking in Montana
NB It is not ALWAYS this simple to address head-flicking because everybody’s horse is different and their grass is different but it outlines the basic protocol of what to do as soon as you see the first signs.
This is where we would start.
Cases like this validate the advice to add salt to feeds rather than relying on a salt lick (10gms per 100kgs).
No need to worry, horses have superb kidneys for handling salt and, being large mammals, have a correspondingly large requirement especially when the forage they are consuming is high in potassium and nitrogen as Laura’s was.
You can read about the Importance of Salt here
Laura’s Head-Flicking Story!
(And the power of Salt!)
This is a wonderful story from Laura who lives in Montana. It confirms CHH findings that, in most cases head-flicking/shaking is a ‘management’ issue rather than a ‘horse’ issue and that it is closely correlated with changes in the grass with the weather and the season.
Laura had the offending forage tested to check.
Thankyou Laura for going to the effort of describing your journey!
“I thought I would share my head-flicking story and how finding your website was an absolute blessing! I can't thank you enough for the research and discoveries you have made and shared.
My first-ever experience with head-flicking (I have owned horses my entire life!) occurred two years ago (2017) while I was giving a riding lesson with my 2004 mustang mare.
She started tossing her head during the lesson, and I attributed it to the horse flies bothering her. We decided to end the lesson a little early since "the flies" just wouldn't leave her alone. It had gotten so bad that I decided to un-tack her and give her the run of the arena to work it out. I literally thought a fly had flown up her nose - it's a perfect description of her behavior.
By the time we arrived home it had subsided some, but I knew at that point something else was going on - not just flies.
The next day, things seemed back to normal. At our next lesson, the flicking returned. It seemed to occur towards the end of the lesson once she started to work up a bit of a sweat.
When we got home, I hit the computer and started searching for answers. I found your website - Calm Healthy Horses - which described many of my horse's behaviors and our pasture conditions to a T.
We just recently had heavy rains after an extended period of spring/summer drought. I submitted a grass sample for testing to review the Potassium levels - wow! Not only was Potassium high, so were Nitrogen levels. And I had never thought to supplement extra salt - only white salt blocks to lick on.
Oddly enough, my other horse did not appear to be afflicted, but she was not being ridden or worked heavily. Also a much higher metabolism, so maybe that has something to do with it.
Nonetheless, I removed them both from pasture and started supplementing extra salt. I began monitoring pasture conditions closely and re-introduced them for short periods of time. When it rained, they came off for a week or so. Everything was back to normal.
Fast-forward to this summer, 2019. My new horse, a 2018 filly, was getting more pasture time than my other two because she is still growing. One afternoon, much to my dismay, I saw her out there head-flicking and "boxing" at her nose in the pasture. I watched her run up and down the fence line as if she were trying to get away from something. I immediately pulled her off pasture and started supplementing salt.
The head-flicking quickly subsided. I'll admit I had slacked off on supplementing the extra salt. My bag ran out last fall and I just never remembered to buy more. Although they still had their blocks, that alone clearly wasn't enough.
The next evening, I decided to let all three horses back out to pasture. I noticed my other two doing some very minor head-flicking as they excitedly exited their dry lot into the pasture. As soon as they settled down, the flicking stopped.
I returned to your website and re-read everything I could. I realized we just had a couple of overcast days, and now the sun was out again. Fascinating how minor weather changes can affect so much.
Everyone is getting extra salt with their daily ration-balancers, now, plus multiple salt blocks are placed throughout the pasture and dry lot. I am, once again, keeping an even CLOSER eye on weather and pasture conditions. Things are back to normal. I thank my lucky stars that I found your website and was able to get things under control before they got out of hand.
There is SO LITTLE information available out there about this. Although I still have A LOT to learn about equine nutrition, this experience and the information you have provided has given me a much better understanding and cognizance.
From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU!
Sweet Grass, Montana