'I brought my new horse ‘Lochy’ home with much anticipation, I had test ridden him and liked him, he was a bit unsteady in the head and fidgety but assuming it was behavioural I wasn’t too worried. He had been grazing dairy type pasture and I was confident as soon as he was off it he would settle.
Instead the problems did not improve and he was exhibiting some unusual behaviours.
In the paddock he became known as “the giraffe” as he was constantly on the alert, neck tense and poised for flight and would randomly gallop madly around and on occasion throw himself on the ground.
Ridden wise he wasn’t too bad, until he was warmed up or stressed when the head flicking at walk and halt was constant. He would often stop suddenly and rub his nose desperately on his leg. He had constantly runny eyes and after a ride would spend a good 5 minutes rubbing his head on the hitching rail uncontrollably. The nerves in his face would twitch after a ride quite noticeably.
Still thinking it was something we could train out of him I persevered, until a couple of incidents in the space of a week. I had a bad fall off him after he flicked his head badly after a jump, then a week later he had a panic attack when another horse cantered into his space and reared, as he reared he head flicked and threw himself over backwards and I was lucky enough to find myself curled in a ball between his front and back legs on the ground.
Thinking a back problem may be the cause I was fortunate enough to get a chiropractor to look at him who had just had training in trigeminal nerve problems, she diagnosed him, treated him and suggested I do some reading, which is when I came across your articles on head flicking.
I had loosely followed the Calm Healthy Horses regime, but after reading the article a light bulb went off. He was already on limited grass (it is not “perfect” horse grass but not rye) and a toxin binder each morning but added Alleviate C, my personal favourite fenugreek, changed minerals to Premium Minerals and added SALT which I had never fed. This to my basic feed of beet and chaff, and I have since added copra morning and night for weight gain. And ad lib hay.
Over the next few weeks the head flicking and strange behaviours became less frequent until one day I realised it was gone completely. This was a little over a year ago. I have had another chiro treatment but attribute the change mostly to diet.
I still follow exactly the same regime and have a happy, healthy, easy going horse who is a pleasure to have around. He is doing very well with his dressage and is now able to fulfill his potential'.
Belinda Anderson, Timaru
Lochy continued to do well for a while but Belinda struggled to get him 100% right as she didn't have the facilities and unless meticulously adhered to, the diet for a head flicking horse can quickly become a problem. They need to be kept on a strict dry lot (absolutely zero grass) while they get back to normal and this can take many months, especially for severely affected horses like Lochy.
Unfortunately, like many people, Belinda did not have the facilities to do this, so when he started head flicking again after going back onto grass, Belinda was desperate.
"I also couldn't bear to look at him on his bad days in obvious distress, but I also felt it was unfair to have him put to sleep if there were any other options available and that's when Jenny offered to take him on. I'm still forever grateful to you all for looking after Lochy and giving him a great life".
Lochy then came to us.
Lochy when he first arrived at Calm Healthy Horses Headquarters.
His head flick was uncontrollable even in his yard.
About a year later and he is finally rideable again.
Lochy is delightful, moves beautifully, is very well mannered and the only thing separating him from this is the fact hardly anyone has the appropriate facilities to keep him so that he doesn’t relapse. (Never mind, we just love him!)
Lochy had a wonderful home before coming here, and have learned a lot from him.
Lochy wasn’t the first, they are all a bit different but he was a challenge and a good example. It took longer with Lochy than some of the others.
For the first few months after he arrived he had, just like most head-flickers, a lot of associated issues:
Apart from the sudden onset, involuntary vertical, throwing up and down of his head, the pointing of his nose at the sky or dragging it along the ground, he would have on exercise:
- ‘Spastic’ episodes
- Lose his balance and fall over –(he fell over in the trailer on the way to our place)
- Constant eye and muzzle twitching of just one side of his head
- Skin conditions, little roundish patches that looked a bit like ringworm but weren’t, numerous tiny, ‘flecky’ little bumps along his neck and shoulders
- ‘Sacro-iliac’ issues, some days he was very ‘weak’ behind others he was tight, back legs together, unable to move or canter properly
- When ridden, he could walk happily on a loose rein but, weirdly, on picking up a contact would start ‘goose-stepping’ with his front legs.
Bear in mind this horse, before he became a head-flicker/shaker, won the “Best Paced and Mannered” at one of NZ’s biggest shows: the Canterbury A & P Show.
Since arrival at our place, Lochy lives in a large, meticulously grass free ‘Dry Lot’ with company and adlib low nutrient density hay. That is browntop/cocksfoot mix off land that had never been fertilised.
Being approximately 650kgs we were a bit worried about keeping the condition on him whilst on this feeding regime. This proved to be no problem at all. He was fed oaten chaff, copra crushed linseed, Premium MVA, 100gms of salt, 2 scoops of GrazeEzy, 4 scoops of AlleviateC/SOS, all split over 2 feeds a day.
That’s what it took to overcome the facial twitching, strengthen him up so he no longer fell over (electrolytes run muscles and nerves) and reduce the head-flicking. The GrazeEzy and AlleviateC was reduced down to half of these amounts, now he gets one scoop of each per day.
Soon after he arrived he was blood-tested. His potassium reading was 5.5 (this is right at the top end of the range and far too high for a horse at rest).
Several months later when he was much better, twitching gone, skin conditions cleared up, moving nicely but still ‘flicky’ on exercise his potassium was 4.5 and after a year when he was out on late summer grass but 100% OK, it was 3.9, where it should be for a horse at rest)
If you are renting grazing or at livery you have the challenge of setting up a suitable Dry Lot. We are optimistic that with education/knowledge more places will become available to suit the many horses out there like Lochy.