2500 Acres of Grass ...
and the Horse Can’t Have Any!
Donna’s detailed story (fill your wine glass!) will help many other people who have HS horses.
Donna found a way to give her beautiful horse the environment and diet that fitted him rather than what would have been a lot easier! Thanks Donna for the valuable ideas and observations!
“Three years ago I purchased my horse, Reiko as a 5 year old and we did our first dressage competition season at Level 1 with no problems and some great results.
Then at the end of that season (March) I noticed while he was on a break he looked “wrong”, he was standing under the trees with an unhappy demeanour about him and was involuntarily flicking his head and it looked like he was having short electric shocks.
The vet was called and he was diagnosed with ‘Head Flicking’. I was pretty devastated as he has three lovely paces, is such a gentleman to ride and was also proving to be lovely to hack over the farm we live on so he was my dream horse.
So I started my journey learning how to reverse these symptoms and then how to manage this issue.
I’m happy to say he is pretty much symptom free and we are currently competing Level 4/Medium Dressage with consistent scores in the mid to high 60% and some tests scoring into the early 70%’s.
To achieve this I have learnt SO MUCH and wish I knew this information over the last 20 years as I know it would have helped immensely with several of my previous horses including my daughter’s ponies, to manage their diets and enhance their training and performance.
Luckily for me when the HS was diagnosed I found the CHH website, printed off a whole folder full of info which I constantly had to refer to until I knew the stuff off by heart and set about instigating what Reiko needed to reverse his symptoms.
We live on a rural property but it isn’t ours, have no stabling etc so it was challenging to set up a 100% grassless track and it took quite a bit for me to get my head around the fact that green grass was not possible to have in his diet. My husband is a Farm Manager so telling him my horse was “allergic” to grass took some convincing! We have 2,500 acres of grass so it was quite devastating to realise I couldn’t use any of it!
My Track – is only about ¼ ha or 50mx50m – this was all that I was able to use to convert to a track as we don’t own the land. It has a shelter belt on 2 sides and garden orchard trees on another side –
I started off with just a ‘dry lot’ 10x15m, fenced off with electric fence tape and push in standards. Then slowly added to this until I had a track going around the perimeter of the paddock with a companion living in the middle section.
I’m glad I used push in standards as I needed to move these in or out until I got the track size and corner area size right. I have a key hole shape area off to the side of the track as his rolling / loafing area because there was already some rotted down bark and shavings there which the horses had always chosen to roll in if they were in that paddock.
I learnt that the best way to remove the grass was to let the horses onto the track as much as possible in the winter when it was wet and their hooves churned up all the grass. I used free carpet from the bins at the back of the carpet layers, to line the outside fence-line of the track and covered with pine needles. Power poles were used to line the inside track fence which helps keep it grass free. A mains power electric fence unit is the best option.
My paddock is on reasonably free draining sandy loam soil so it doesn’t pug up in the winter but it does get slippery and this was a big concern as Reiko is a large horse with shoes who likes to gallop at times and was an accident waiting to happen.
Hence I have put lime on one side of the track so he has good traction and I also tape off parts of the track when it is wet so he can’t race around and risk slipping over. The track isn’t “pretty” but it is functional, is safe and sheltered and has worked - keeping him relaxed and feeling safe while allowing plenty of movement.
Diet – plain “whole” foods are best – following the CHH website advice. Reiko travels and competes and does farm hill riding on a diet of Hay and Hard Feed – that being Oaten Chaff, Beet (sometimes Copra) and Boiled Barley. At first he had a full scoop each am & pm of GrazeEzy and SOS plus CHH Premium MVA, Salt and Crushed Linseed. That’s it! Twice a day with unlimited horse friendly hay fed in slow feeder haynets.
It took roughly 4 months for Reiko to become symptom free after changing his diet and giving him CHH supplements and following your guidelines. He doesn’t need the GrazeEzy and SOS now.
Equipment that has helped – I did a lot of trial and error with head fly mesh masks/hoods – sometimes I would be 15 mins into a flat work session and he would start flicking so I would persevere for 10 mins and he would get worse but if I put the head mask on his symptoms would reduce and I could work him for another 30-40 mins comfortably.
The things I’ve learnt that I think have also helped successfully get Reiko symptom free are:
Litmus tests and urine pH levels – helped me know what was working and/or if adjustments were still needed in his diet. If the reading was darker green (8 or over) I kept increasing the GE and did Litmus Test until under 7.
Metabolic processes function properly when internal pH is right.
Work – I ride Reiko most days of the week – even if it was just a short 20 min ride as this helped me see if he had any symptoms or not as sometimes in the early days it wasn’t obvious until I was riding him if he was ok or not. (Each HS horse is different in this regard, keep within their comfort levels)
Soaking hay – initially this helped reduce symptoms but I don’t need to soak hay now.
Safe hay – find horse friendly hay (no Lucerne/alfalfa, NO clover!)– growers are out there but it can take a lot of looking to find them.
Initially there will be bad days but you start to get less bad days and further apart and then symptoms will fade to the odd tick.
Be METICULOUS – Jenny at CHH gave me this advice on one of my phone conversations we had when I was learning what to do. Stick to the grassless environment, stick to the plain diet and adjust CHH supplements as needed. Scrutinising supplements – people give lots of well meaning advice – don’t follow it – often these people haven’t any actual experience with HS horses.
Pollen is a secondary issue (not the cause of head flick) – Reiko is seriously surrounded by trees – we have 74 massive “yellow pollen dropping” trees right next to his track as well as hundreds of other types all around him in close proximity but I have no head flicking if I have managed his symptoms and he is metabolically balanced.
Salt quantity – learn how much to give and give it all year round – every day.
Avoid feeds with molasses, kelp, lucerne, many protein meals and many herbs. No need for any of these.
Get better at reading feed bag labels – again well meaning people will say they had good results on a certain product – don’t waste money on buying without reading the label otherwise you may be putting something into your horse that will negate all the other good management you are doing.
Feed a GOOD QUALITY Multi Vitamin supplement every day for any horse you have (I use CHH Premium MVA you can see this keeps him super healthy!)