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How to train a head shy horse

ArticleHow to - horse trainingFriday 11 November 2011
By Helen Cheesworth

The head shy horse can be extremely frustrating to deal with, and this is a behavioral trait that is easily made worse if not handled correctly and patiently. It can adversely affect the value of a horse, and can make handling him and doing day to day tasks difficult.

Luckily, as this tends to be a behavioural rather than physical issue, and is usually, although not always, caused by previous rough treatment, it can be overcome with time and patience. In some cases however, head shyness can be caused by other underlying issues, and this case would need managing rather than fixing.

Horses that are head shy are difficult to bridle or to put a head collar on. When the handler goes to do this they may pull away, run backwards, or simply put their head up so high that the handler can no longer reach it.

Overcoming this takes patient handling, and frequent repetition of techniques to help the horse overcome his worries.

There are many ways that people will suggest to help with this problem. The below method is only one, but is one that has been proven time and again to be effective.

First of all, it is important to rule out any underlying medical problems. Could this trait be linked to the horse feeling claustrophobic when he is bridled? If he is ok to brush on his head, and this only becomes a problem when you come to bridling him, could there be some other underlying issue? Could he have a sensitive poll, or a sore mouth from his teeth? Could he associate being caught or bridles with being ridden with a sore back? These other possibilities need ruling out by a vet before any other measures to correct this issue are taken.

If you have had his teeth, back etc checked and they are not the cause, it might be worth trying taking the bridle apart, and putting it on in pieces. First put the noseband on, then put on the headpiece without the bit, and then finally put the bit in from one side.

If however, he is unhappy with anything being done on his head or around his ears, then you will need to work slowly and patiently to build up his trust and to help him understand you won’t hurt him.

Find an area where he is comfortable with your hand. This might be as far down as his withers, or as close to his head as his poll. Rub him gently here, and help him understand that you touching him is nice.

Slowly move your hand towards his head, still rubbing. As soon as he shows any sign of being unhappy, or pulling away, move your hand back to the last place he was happy, and start again. This takes time, but you will find that his comfort zone gradually gets nearer and nearer to his head.

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