Headshy Horses, Florida Horse Training

by Jennifer on December 26, 2012

Some cases of headshyness can be caused by physical problems, such as ear infections, mites, ear warts, jaw or tooth pain, poor eyesight or blindness in one eye, even a poorly fitting bridle so rule out all pain issues before you deem it a behavioral issue.  Some headshyness can be created buy ruff training and handling as well.

Working with the headshy horse: With the horse in a halter, begin rubbing all over his head to discover where he is most sensitive. Once you discover the problem area, you want to focus on being able to handle that area.

Don’t tie the horse. Just hold the lead rope in one hand, and with your free hand begin rubbing and petting. Start in an area he is comfortable with and move gradually toward the sensitive area, often theears or poll. The secret is to retreat every time you make a little progress. This will build the horse’s trust and confidence.

Lets sat your goal is to be able to easily handle the ears.  You can’t start there though, Begin rubbing his lower face and gradually work upward. Every time you are able to move your hand closer to the ears, move your hand away for a moment before continuing. This keeps the horse’s anxiety from building as it would with constant touching.

Each time I raise my hand I want to approach a little closer to his ears. I keep backing off and then moving forward until I can finally pet him all the way up to the base of his ears without him moving his head away. I then begin going past his ears, rubbing from his forehead to poll, passing over his ears and lightly touching them on the way. This motion should be rapid. I don’t want my hand to ‘stall out’ on his ears because I want to move from his ears before he has time to become afraid. I then continue this motion, but start slowing my hand down until I can slowly run my hand over his ears and move them back and forth without him becoming fearful.

You would do this same procedure anywhere on your horses head that makes them nervous.

Once the horse willingly lets you handle his ears this way, you can teach him to lower his head, this will help the horse relax and will help you with bridling issues you may have.With your left hand on the bridge of his nose to steady his head, place your right forearm on the top of his neck so that your right hand is resting on his poll. Exert gentle pressure with both hands until the horse begins to lower his head. Without removing your hands, immediately release this pressure once the horse drops his head at all, even if it is not much. This immediate release of pressure teaches him he’s safe and is not going to be forced to put his head down.

Continue exerting pressure and releasing until the horse learns to “give” to the pressure and lowers his head to around your waist level. At this point you can introduce the bridle, but for the first several times you should do this without a bit. You don’t want anything to bump his mouth or teeth. Your goal is simply to be able to move the headstall back and forth over his ears. Don’t attach the bit until the horse is totally comfortable with “bitless” bridling.

The amount of time it takes to achieve this varies from horse to horse. You can break this exercise into two or three sessions, but you can also do this in one session, providing the horse is accepting each step well. Your goal is always to have the horse acting better when you stop than when you started the session. If you are running out of time and need to stop for the day, be sure to quit at a point where the horse is improving.

If your horse moves away from you everytime you move your hand towards them when you come to meet them in the field to say hi or halter them try a cookie or a bit of feed. Raise your hand slow and level with the cookie in it, soon they will realize a raised hand is not scary but often means a good treat and they will come right to your hand when you raise it. After they get the idea of lowering their head and accepting your touch while haltered and coming to your hand for the cookie you can use the cookie to get a hug. Just put your arm over your horses neck and have the cookie in your other hand, they will then rap their neck around you with their heads lowered to get the cookie. All of this will help a fearfull head shy horse become more confident and see that their are good things by allowing the human to touch and handle their head.

It helps to talk to your horse in an even, pleasant voice throughout the training session.  Horses are experts at reading emotions and intent. If they pick up on frustration, they will immediately become afraid, so stay calm and always end on a positive note.

If you don’t have enough time, don’t work with your horse that day, or you’ll regret it in the long run. If you get careless or in a hurry even after making some progress, the situation will regress. As prey animals, horses tend to remember the bad over the good; the survival instinct remains strong, even in the domesticated horse.

Be patient and take the time it takes.

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