Jason Webb of Australian Horse Training is a renowned UK-based horse trainer with a passion for starting young horses, solving equine problems and teaching riders of all abilities and ambitions develop and strengthen the partnership they have with their horses. Here Jason gives a H&H forum user advice on how to work with a horse that is head shy
Q: “I have a 15-year-old thoroughbred and she is very head shy — I can’t touch her round by her poll. My partner and I have been working with her but she will not let you anywhere near it. We have tried to work our hands up her face but when we get near he poll she rears up. We’ve only had her a couple of weeks so don’t know what has happened in the past. If anyone has advice, I would be very grateful.”
A: Horses that are genuinely head shy are difficult to cure of this problem. I have worked with a lot of horses with this issue and you can make great improvements, here are some techniques to help you get there.
Teach your horse to flex to the left and right, and lower their head to a queue. Think carrot stretches but from pressure on the head collar. This will immediately give you more control although you might have to practice this for a few days before your horse is doing this without moving or resistance.
Start by raising your hand up toward her ears. Given what you’ve said you probably won’t even need to make contact with her before she raises her head to avoid you. If this happens follow her with your hand up until she stops moving or lowers her head, then lower your hand.
Use this same process with contact. Start down her neck and work your way toward her ears, if she moves or puts her head up, stay where you are giving her a gentle rub until she stops or puts her head down.
Each time before and after desensitising flex left, right and down.
Once you’ve made a bit of progress with desensitising and flexions, you can use reverse psychology. When she puts her head up keep it up there by putting your hand under her lower jaw. When your horse is bored of having their head in the air (your arm may get tired!), you will feel them push your hand down. When you feel their head get heavy like this take your hand gently away.
Each time before and after using reverse psychology flex left, right and down.
The art of distraction
I can, with some horses cure them of head shyness just by putting a bridle on. There’s a certain way to put a bridle on, which I can’t explain here, which focuses the horses attention on the bit going into the mouth not the head piece going over the ears. It tends to work better with younger horses. To watch the videos on this please refer to my online training resource www.yourhorsemanship.com.
Each time before and after putting the bridle on flex left, right and down.
If your horse has plaque in their ears it might be an idea to get this treated. You’ll need a heavy sedation. Talk to your vet about this.
The real secret to your horse getting better with this and your sanity is time. Which ever tactic you use only do it three times a session. This problem is going to take a month or two for you to get a feel for it and for her to start to relax. There are no short cuts.
Hope this helps. Good luck!
For more information on Jason Webb visit his online training base Your Horsemanship, where you can learn a foundation in horse training with online lessons in groundwork, starting, and ridden fundamentals