My horse has become extremely headshy. What do I do?
Q: My mare had a serious ear infection that required weeks of treatment. Now she’s extremely head shy. It’s an ordeal to bridle her. If anything comes near her ears she panics. Otherwise, she’s a sweet, wonderful mare. Can I get her to trust me again?
A: Horses are naturally protective of their sensitive ears. Once that area is injured or traumatized they can become extremely head shy. Punishing the horse for its evasion or trying to forcibly restrain it will only reinforce the “fight or flight” reaction. Someone—horse or human—could get hurt. Instead, here are three suggestions.
First, make a commitment to spend 5 minutes twice a day gently massaging and rubbing your mare’s neck with an open hand. In the beginning do not make any attempt to reach for her ears. At the end of each session, give her a treat. After about a week, increase the length of each session and expand the area where you’re rubbing her neck. As you approach the ear zone, she’ll raise her head to elude you. Calmly follow her with your open hand and continue rubbing her neck. Then quit and give her the treat. Never force the issue. Over time, without making a big ordeal, your hand will get closer to your mare’s ears in a non-threatening manner. The treat is a reward for being so trusting.
If this seems unfeasible for your schedule and level of patience, then consult with a professional trainer. There are horsemen and horsewomen who specialize in non-aggressive methods of gentling horses and communicating a sense of trust. They can then demonstrate their methods to you so you can follow up at home.
Finally, you may choose avoid the issue in hopes that your mare will, over time, return to her non-head shy behavior. When bridling, use a headstall that will unbuckle easily, so you can merely flip it over the top of her neck, slide it into place and re-buckle the cheekpiece. I realize this sounds like a bother, but it’s a small price to pay for having a relationship with an otherwise lovely animal.
Share your solutions for headshy behavior on the HorseChannel.com Forums >>
See more Expert Q&As >>
Submit your Ask the Expert question >>
Give us your opinion on