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Why do horses flick their heads?

IT’s quite common for horses to flick their heads and it can be caused by a number of issues.

While it is often just a defence mechanism and nothing to worry about, there can be more serious reasons.

There are a number of reasons why a horse may start flicking its head

There are a number of reasons why a horse may start flicking its headCredit: Getty

Why do horses flick their heads?

In general, a horse flicking their head is more often than not a way to agitate and dislodge any annoying flies buzzing about.

This often stops once a horse is on the move and can also be helped by using plenty of equine-appropriate fly repellent.

As well, using things like fly rugs, masks and a nose net can also reduce the problem.

However, if the head flicking is persistent and occurs all year round, or only occurs when being ridden, it may need investigating by a vet, according to Horse and Rider.

It could be caused by dental or sinus problems and a simple dental exam by a vet could quickly pinpoint any potential issues.

The problem could also be caused by the fungal infection guttural pouch mycosis this can often be detected by discharge or bleeding from the nose. A vet will use an endoscope to examine things more closely.

The headshaking could also be a sign of a behavioural or pain-related issue. It possibly could be a way of the horse trying to evade doing some work when it doesn’t want to.

Similarly though there could be a musculoskeletal problem with the head, neck and back. A vet will need to take some x-rays to investigate further.

If there is no obvious cause of the issue then it could be down to “trigeminal headshaking” where it is thought it could be caused by a sensation of pain in the face.

Although not much is known about this condition, it is thought a nerve supplying sensation to the face isn’t working properly.

As well as headshaking, these horses might rub at their faces and snort and it’s often worse when the horse is being ridden. 

Why do horses flick their tails?

There are a variety of reasons why a horse might start flicking their tail.

A very common reason is that a horse is using its tail simply to deter flies and insects that are bothering it.

A horse can use its tail with remarkable accuracy and will swish its tail to bat away any annoying insect.

More concerning though is that a horse can swish its tail to express pain or discomfort.

This could be caused by the bit being too small or the saddle or girth is uncomfortable.

It could also occur if the horse is suffering an injury or illness and is in pain.

Tail swishing could also be a sign that the horse is confused – this can occur when you are training your horse or teaching it a new skill.

A new concept might be confusing the horse and it can react by swishing its tail.

It can also be a sign that the horse is concentrating.

A horse may know what is being asked of them but still find trouble in mastering it.

As with a relatively new task to perform, it may know what is needed but is focusing on it, and a reaction could be to swish its tail.

Horses also swish their tail as a way to find their balance.

Tail-swishing can also be a sign of irritation or expressing displeasure.

This can occur if an exercise has gone on too long and they are losing focus or being pushed beyond their comfort zone.

This can be down to a horses’ problem with balance or more likely, an unbalanced rider.

A horse may swish its tail to show it is happy and content

A horse may swish its tail to show it is happy and contentCredit: Getty

How do you know if a horse is happy?

A horse may also swish its tail to show that it is happy or content and relaxed.

Often a horse will swish its tail when it sees its grain bucket being filled and they know it is feeding time.

They also swish their tail when they are in a playful mood.

When they are often playing together and simply fooling around for some fun, they can swish their tails.

One obvious sign your horse is happy is a relaxed physical appearance which can be shown when its nostrils are relaxed.