Head Shaking or a Nervous Twitch?

Discussion in 'Problem Horses' started by sunline, Sep 12, 2003.

  1. sunline

    sunline Well-known Member

    I recently brought a 9yr TB gelding, over the past few months he has developed a really annoying head flick and front leg flick (either one) whilst riding him. It has got to the point where he becomes quite unbalanced, and very uncomfortable to ride.
    At first my instructor and I thought it was him just being a pain, and not wanting to work round so it was his way of avoiding it and having a dummy spit.
    I then sent him to a natural horsemanship centre, where they were going to work with him, and hopefully get it out of his system. 3 weeks later, they said he had gone even more downhill, and they are convinced its pain related. That it was more of a nervous twitch which he did unknowningly to release the pain. But the horse doesnt appear to be in any pain at all, he has had a couple bowen massages in the past 3 weeks, and short of a full body xray he appears 100% sound.
    I then had the farrier out, and he told me thats its a bad habit that race horses can develop or pick up.
    Has anyone heard or seen this happen in their own ex-racers, it is most frustrating and becoming a very expensive problem for me to fix.

  2. Tam

    Tam Well-known Member

    It is likely that it started off as a response to pain and has now become a habit which will be hard to break. This was the case with my horse who would initially toss his head violently due to pain and even after bowen to eliminate the pain, he still needed to be trained out of it as it was now just habit. my first suggestion would be to check your saddle, his teeth etc if you haven't already done so. Pain responses are impossible to get over if there is something still causing the same pain. Having done that i would get a good instructor. I could tell you exactly what i did with my horse but every horse is different and eyes on the ground would be able to see what he's doing, what you're doing and based on that, work out a solution. Hope this is off some help. (and yes, along with many other things, this is one thing that can be picked upas a racehorse and become habit) Who did the Bowen treatments for your horse?
  3. sunline

    sunline Well-known Member

    I dont know who did the Bowen, he had 2 sessions while he was at the natural horsemans property. I only got him back sunday afternoon.
    I've had his teeth done recently and at the moment I now have an english 3day event rider riding him daily for me to try get him out of the habit.
    Leo (the horse) rarely does the head flick in the paddock, yet when I am just sitting on his back in the arena standing still, he'll just flick it while he is standing there. Its really frustrating, and I am starting to think its just a habit he's picked up on. Hopefully having a very more advanced rider school him will help get him out of the habit.
    I was just wondering if anyone else had this happen to their TB's as the farrier said it was common amoung racers and exracers, and how they overcame it.
    thanks for the responce
  4. crave

    crave Well-known Member

    Hi sunline, its amazing that you posted this topic as I have just come home from lungeing my TB and he started doing the same thing you have just said. Its like a bit of a skip and he throws out his front leg, his head also does a flick up action, very weird. He has on the very odd occassion done this while I have been riding him but today it was very frequent . He is not lame and doesnt seem to be sore anywhere. He was only shod 2 weeks ago so hes not needing new shoes. Seems very happy as when I had finished lungeing him he galloped around the paddock for a good 10 minutes. I must say though its bloody annoying and it also looked like he was annoyed when he did it. If you can find out any more info I would love to know!

  5. Nikiwink

    Nikiwink Well-known Member

    my old gelding does this kind of thing but he also reefs the bit off you - with him its stress related. whenever the pressure gets to hards it his way of dummy spitting.

    i hope you figure it out.

    :) Nikiwink :)
  6. sunline

    sunline Well-known Member

    Crave - that sounds exactly like what my Leo is doing. Its so frustrating because it seems to just start happening, and go down hill from there. Started out as just one or two a ride, but now its just a constant battle with him.
    Hopefully this other professional I have riding him will get it out of his system. They think its just a bad habit brought on from him being bored, not being made to think alot, so he has a sad if you try ask him to work.
    I'll let you know if we have any break-throughs.
  7. MINTY

    MINTY Active Member

    My TB used to do a little jump with his front legs then flick his head up, he also did this in the paddock when trotting or cantering around, he even ran into a small tree while doing it. I put it down to the yellow dasies in the paddock found at this time of the year he hoovers along and picks all of the flowers off. Last year I kept mowing the flowers off and he didnt seem to have the problem, this year I have him in a paddock without them - see how we go. I have heard that these flower give an alcoholic effect on animals when eaten.

  8. Sassy

    Sassy Gold Member

    Ive never hard that before about daisies...

    It isnt just a TB thing, head flicking (as i call it!) Is something our Arab stallion has done all his life, it is nothing but annoying. it is also hereditary as a bunch of his foals also do it, not frequently though, mostly they do it at frustrated times, eg. feed time when they can see you heading towards another horse first! we dont really notice it though.
    I can understand your frustration with it as it can be quite irritating when you are riding, I would be interested to know if you manage to train him out of doing it, because as far as i know its a characteristic (like hair colour) <- you cant change it!!
  9. sunline

    sunline Well-known Member

    Well I went out and watched the professional ride Leo again this morning, he's not so much throwing himself off balance as he did before and really giving either of his front legs a good flick, Now its just a little sort of hop and sometimes he'll flick his head sideways rather than up and out. Its still there, but not as bad as before. Slowly getting there.
    He also suggested I try ear plugs on him, and he moved his head about when he was playing with his ears, so it may be something to do with that. Only getting a vet ($$) out will be able to tell me if anything is really wrong with them though.

    He is in a paddock with Daisy's atm, but he started the head flick way before he was ever out in a paddock with daisys.
  10. Sassy

    Sassy Gold Member

    Just a thought... I remember a mare we used to have that was always nodding her head, constantly with the bridle on, but in the paddock aswell, we had a chiro to her and he said that she had a VERY bad headache and it was a wonder she even let us ride her... Worth checking!
  11. crave

    crave Well-known Member

    Hi sunline, just wondered how you were going with your little problem. My TB stopped doing this little dance thing for the last few weeks but today I took him out for a ride and he started again. I took a LOT of notice of what we where riding on, where we were, wind etc and I noticed these small flying bugs (sort of like flying ants but smaller) and I really think they were getting up his nose. It was quite a warm afternoon and I do remember on the odd days that he started this that it was warm also. Just a thought, but let me know how you have gotten on.

  12. sunline

    sunline Well-known Member

    Not much of a change really. The professional has him going really nicely, and in turn is teaching me how to get results on him, but at times he still does his little head flick. Not so much of a hop or front leg flick as he did before, more its just his head throwing himself and me off balance.
    We find that if he's working round, he doesnt do it so much, but if you lose the contact, then ask him to come round again, it gives him the opportunaty to flick his head which he more than likely does.
    I have the saddler coming out tomorrow to make sure its nothing to do with his back being sore from the saddles. Other than that, I really dont know, I'm starting to think its something I'm going to have to ignore and just put up with.
    I also found that when we were doing some crosscountry training the other day he started flicking his head about really badly, I dont know if its an excitement thing maybe..
    Its just so frustrating that he never used to do it, and now its just come on and not going away.
  13. beccy

    beccy Well-known Member

    it could be that he is still building up muscles and finding working in a round frame a bit of work, so trying to get out of it by getting rid of the contact. if this is the case, try and give lots of relaxed walk breaks in between, so when you ask for work, it is practiced more pure, gradually making the 'work' time longer.

    he could also be doing it because he has figured out that he gets out of work by pulling the reins.
    when you have a contact he is concentrating on you, but if you loosen them he gets distracted and naughty. or it could be he is getting good feed and feeling a bit too good and fresh.

    you say he does it a lot when jumping, so he could be 'nodding' to say yes please mum i wanna jump that.
    or if he has been jumped or being jumped too round, he may not beable to see the jump and tring to get the reins so he can see where he is going infront of him. if a horse is behind the verticle, he can only see the ground.

    without seeing him it is very hard to tell.

  14. ashka

    ashka Well-known Member

    Wow, this is freaky. Just saw your posts about this and I can completely relate! I have two t/bs (one ex-racer, one not) and at this time of the year, they do tend to develop the tendency to throw their heads around. I really feel it is related to the pollen in the air more than anything because at different times of the day it can be worse, or just not happen at all. Just my thoughts, but I know it doesn't happen in winter!
  15. sunline

    sunline Well-known Member

    Its just weird because he has developed it, and it hasnt gone away. Another suggestion was that he has become very sensitive to light, and to try riding him in his flymask. Another person said their horse did the same thing, but is fine when they ride with their fly mask on. So I'll be trying this tomorrow. Fingers Crossed.
  16. eventer chick

    eventer chick New Member

    I believe what your horse is doing is called head shacking. It happens at this time of the year as the weather warms up and the pollen count increases. I hate to sya this but if it is what hes got thees nothing much you can do at all. You can eaither just ignore it when you ride him or do what lots of people do and just put them out on spell until Jan/Feb or simply dont ride them! I read this on the net and also have seen many horses do it out and about at shows and asked educated instructors etc and this is the answer every time.

    He has all the signs and the leg flicking thing is part of the whole thing.

    None of my horses do it but recently i rode a horse that was doing it and I have to sya it is the most frustrating thing I have ever experienced isnt it.

    He probably started doing it when you were practising cross country more because the pollen was higher there or it was hotter or something.

    Its not uncommon at all if you go out to shows and watch them you'll notice how many horses are actually doing it. I mean some arent anywhere near as sever as others but quite a few actually do it.

    This is just what i thik it could be but i could be wrong

    Well I hope this helps even though i do feel bad telling you !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  17. crave

    crave Well-known Member

    I think this also may be the answer as my TB didnt start this until the dandelions were in flower and I lunged him in them. Also if there has been strong easterly winds and there is pollen flying around everywhere. We were out today and the wheat and grasses are so high my horse was behaving as if he had hay fever. Constantly itching his nose and rubbing his eyes on his legs and of course the head and leg flicking thingy. Im very interested in his behaviour so will wait and see what happens as the grass drys off.Its amazing how many people have had a similar experience.

  18. sunline

    sunline Well-known Member

    Well it does sound alot like what he is doing, but unfortunatly he started doing this around 3 months ago now.. back in July, when it was pretty wet n wild weather. I'd love to say, "ok yep he has allergies" but myself and my instructor really dont think that is the case.
    I am thinking of getting the vet out, to check his ears/eyes/mouth and also do an injection test to see if his eyes are light sensitive.
    It just gets to a point where you have to draw the line. I've spent more money trying to fix this problem, than I did to first off buy the horse.
    The fly veil did nothing.
  19. The Old Grey Mare

    The Old Grey Mare Active Member

    this may sound too silly to ask, but i will ask anyway.

    is the bridle too tight, does it fit him properly, does the bit pinch his mouth?
    have you changed any of his gear recently?
    or have you changed his feed, rugs, stables?

    sorry if i sound dim, but just thought to ask
    if we start at the basics, then maybe we can find something.
  20. sunline

    sunline Well-known Member

    At the moment because of my ankle, he's been out in a paddock for most of the past 2 weeks. My friend rode him 3 times last week, and then we took him to the Gidgigannup show on saturday to do some Showjumping rounds. He did ok, had a hissy fit in the first round and got eliminated, second class he had one refusal, so my friend got stuck into him, and then he went round so neat and clear. Then he went in the 5bar class.. all the other horses were putting in 2 strides, and he was trying to fit in a neat 3.. which unfortunatly didnt work, and he knocked a rail in the first round. Which was ok, considering it was dark and the 5bar was still going after I'd packed up and was ready to leave.
    We werent so much dissapointed with his effort, as he is such a clean jumper, most careful with where he puts his feet, but its just his attitude or something. He thinks its great fun to get out and just see if he can win against the rider or something.
    Still did his little hops/head flicks to begin with in the warmup arena.. maybe its just something I've got to ignore.
    I'm going to give him this week off again I think, as I cant afford to keep paying people to ride him for me :(
    I'll have to save up and see if I can get Chad Donnovan out to have a look at his back/neck.. see if maybe thats a problem. Although he did have 2 bowen massages that didnt help.
    At the moment he is ridden in a hannovarian bridle, I used to ride without the flash attatched, but as his behaviour got worse, my instructor said I should put the flash back on. I've tried a regular snaffle bit, and a Dring copper roller on him, both the same behaviour.
    Its just getting to the point where I cant afford to do anything with him, and I just have to let him have a holiday, and save up more money :( its just so dishearting.

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