Helping The Head Shy Horse

Horses can have a variety of reasons for not wanting to have their head or ears touched. These can include a physical issue that causes pain or a remembered issue that caused pain in the past. Not having the ability to touch a horse’s head is a safety problem: they may not let a person halter or bridle them, or may jerk away their head when someone approaches: this is a preservation response.

If a horse becomes head shy, a call to the veterinarian may be in order; the horse may have ticks in his ears or a sore mouth; TMJ issues in horses are not unheard of and eye pain can also make a horse unwilling to be handled. Some horses are head shy because of rough handling or because of repeated medication, painful for not. As the horse can’t express why he doesn’t want to be touched, it’s up to the owner to help the horse become OK with having his head and ears handled. This process can quite lengthy.

A horse must learn to trust the handler before he will consent to having his head or ears handled; it’s not advisable to halter or bridle him until he is patient with having his head touched, otherwise a fight may ensue, setting the trust back weeks or months. Working with just a leadrope over his neck may have to suffice until trust is earned.

If the horse is not wearing a halter and he needs one on, get the halter on by unbuckling the strap that goes behind his ears. From there, ensure it fits and leave it for a few days. If the horse doesn’t want his ears touched and needs to be bridled, unbuckle the bridle to place it on his head and refasten it once it sits behind his ears.

When working on trust, if the ears are the issue, don’t touch them; touch and rub the horse only on his neck until he gets comfortable with a hand being closer to his ears. The key to overcoming a horse that doesn’t want his head or ears touched is to be patient and consistent; never end a session when the horse is tense.

Some horses may take many days to become desensitized to touch as they have been taught that if they keep resisting, the person eventually quits trying to touch their ears or head. It’s also important to not begin the next session where the last session left off; start low on the neck and work your way back up to the ears slowly.

If a horse needs medicated for a long period of time or requires medication in his eyes, it’s important to move slowly and to always end the session with something the horse enjoys, whether that’s a treat, a head rub or a scratch on the withers. This will ensure that he doesn’t always anticipate a bad thing when someone works around his head or eyes.

Read more at EquiMed.

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