Head shyness in a horse is a common issue that can be debilitating to everyday tasks. Saddling up and grooming your horse can become time consuming, if not impossible. However, head shyness is an issue which can be resolved. Given the right training and care, a horse can become confident with you touching around their ears and head.
Understanding the cause of the shyness is the first step in resolving the problem. There are usually two reasons.
The horse may be feeling pain, which is causing them to jerk suddenly when you touch the area around the head. The pain can be inflicted from a number of different sources. A horse may have injured the head by hitting it, possibly on a trailer or a beam. Alternatively, the pain may be coming from an internal source which is causing the horse discomfort. This can range from a series of issues such as dental issues or warts or growths on the ear. If the shyness is brought on by pain, it is important to find out where the pain is coming from and how it can be dealt with.
Head shyness can also be a behavioral issue. This can occur if your horse has not yet been handled, or due to past experiences which may have hurt the horse or made them feel uncomfortable. The horse may have been handled harshly which has caused fear.
Training a head shy horse takes time and persistence. Jumping straight into the training will cause the horse to feel anxious, affecting the trust between you. It is much better to warm up first, trotting for around 20 minutes. This way they will not see it coming each time which will avoid causing anxiety before training has even started.
Another mistake is to sneak up on the horse. Not only will this increase how nervous your horse feels, it creates a condition on how you can act around them then on. You do not want to fall into a situation of always having to be slow around them.
Rather than keeping your hand on the sensitive area until they calm down, gently rub the area for a few seconds at a time. Doing this as a reward for the horse completing a task can work well as it diverts their attention. After patting your horse reward them with treats so that they start to associate the feeling with something nice.
Tying down or confining a horse whilst doing the training will only irritate the horse more and will not help towards a successful training session.
There is no quick fix to head shyness. Training generally takes weeks, not days. But with consistent training your horse will grow to trust you and feel comfortable with you touching around the ears and head. If you feel that it is caused by pain then be sure to check with your vet for any issues and tips for dealing with it.
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