Head Flicking

DUWELL has successfully rehabbed 6 horses severely affected by head flicking. The most recent is a stunning eventing warmblood cross gelding named Leo. He had been flicking for 2 years and his owners were at a loss as to what to do with him. We have been able to get him back to full health and be consistently 99% flick free and rideable. He could happily go back to competing and is back home again with his owners. We are so glad we could help Leo. He is a fabulous horse. 


What is the Cause of Head Flicking?

The causes of head flicking can be varied. Equine herpes is thought to be the most common causes but some start flicking for no obvious reason. One thing I know for sure is that the cause is not necessarily the reason for ongoing head flicking issues. Once the trigeminal nerve becomes inflamed there are a number of things that prevent healing and these things listed below, in my experience, are the biggest problem:

  • Intake of clover - red and white even in small amounts in hay
  • Lucerne and alfalfa - people do not always understand that these are one and the same plant. Marketing hype makes these lucerne products sound like great horse feed. If I had a dollar for every horse that has been badly affected by these products....Lucerne chaff and so called "Fibre" plastic wrapped products are "no go" products for hf horses. Lucerne contains high levels of photo-dynamic pigments that cause the trigeminal nerve to floresce in sunlight, making hf horses worse on sunny days. They will be seen hiding their heads in the shade to avoid the sunlight and will tend to flick more or front foot on bright days. Photo-sensitivity is a very common symptom in hf horses still out at pasture. I have found that this photo-sensitivity disappears in around 3 weeks once pasture, clover and lucerne are eliminated from the horse's diet.     
  •  Rye grass - high potassium levels definitely contribute to head flicking. Rye grass is most often high in potassium, contains photo-dynamic pigments and so is not suitable pasture for any horses and most of all not head flickers.  
  • High protein feeds - cause general inflammation. 

DUWELL Head Flicker Rehabilitation Protocol - This is not the only way to rehabilitate a hf but we have a 100% success rate using this regime. Head flicking should not be a death sentence but so often owners run out of finances or hay, do not have the right facilities, cannot make the mental shift necessary or get bad advice and the horse is deemed "not fixable". I am very saddened when this happens.  I feel it is important to differentiate between a person with a grass problem and a horse with one!    

DO - 
  1. Remove horse from pasture completely to a sprayed off area, dry lot, arena, yard -a yard is not recommended for long periods as horses need to be able to move around freely, roll, lie down. It can be a difficult mental shift moving a horse onto a dry lot but there are so many health benefits for all horses not just head flickers. People feel very anxious about having horses off grass - Rest assured if you feed good quality DUWELL products with a small amount of plain feed and adlib hay your horse will look and feel amazing! Here is Leo after many months completely off grass.  
  2. Feed ad-lib hay to ensure correct digestion. Horses evolved to consume high fibre low calorie forage throughout the day. Horses can develop ulcers within 4 hours if left without food.  
  3. Feed the right oils - Feed cold stored New Zealand grown flaxseed oil such as DUWELL Flaxseed Oil due to cold storage. many brands are not cold-stored and omega 3 is destroyed after only 3 weeks out of cold storage.  Some cheap brands contain deodorized fish oil and are not recommended. Horses are vegetarian. Avoid soy and canola oil as they are inflammatory. 
  4. Feed quality supplements that contain minerals free from heavy metal contamination. Heavy metals build up over time and become toxic. Cheap supplements contain minerals from dubious sources so it is best to avoid them. 
  5. Magnesium is very important in the healing of nerves. I feed high levels to hf horses. Again use quality products free from toxic nasties. 
  6. Feed plenty of salt. This is very often lacking in equine diets - 10g per 100kg minimum. 
  7. There are a number of herbs that help head flickers - valerian(short-term only) St Johns Wart, gingko and ashwaganda are some that I have had success with. Should definitely be considered as part of the protocol. 
  8. Body work and dental work - again key steps to healing.

DONT - 
  1. Do not feed rye,clover or lucerne even in hay as explained above. 
  2. Do not feed high protein feeds as they can cause general inflammation due to high levels of inflammatory omega 6 oils. 
If you have any questions or would like help with your rehabilitating your head flicking horse please contact us. 

Here is Sterling, another DUWELL head flicking success story. See more about him in our case studies  section.
  

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