HEAD SHY HORSE
QUESTION: I just recently purchased a 12 year old, well trained gelding. He is fine but Spooks big time (actually panics) if I try to touch, pet or brush his head. I can catch and halter him if I am patient (takes a long time) and have treats as long as I do not touch his head anywhere? The last owners said he was like that when they bought him?
ANSWER: Your horse is "Head Shy". Meaning he at one time was struck in the face a couple of times by someone or else sometimes it is from being doctored. Repeated Oral Medication can cause a horse to want to avoid having his head touched. Fly bites in the ears at one time can also do it. Being twitched (muzzle or ears) to many times for doctoring or else clipping can also do it. Many more reasons.
If a horse has reached his age and been Head Shy for quite some time, it can be hard to make them stop completely but you can certainly make him more comfortable with having his head touched.
Do not tie the horse up, simply hold the lead shank as you begin this. Beware of him rearing or striking out with a front foot. Stand to the side, never in front. Make your "Voice" and especially your "Body Language", totally NON aggressive. Do not get mad in voice or actions no matter how long each lesson lasts. And don't stop until he accepts your touch in that area.
The best is to start rubbing a part of his face, start say with his chin, all over and DO NOT STOP until he relaxes. This teaches the horse to accept it without fear. Rub and stroke until he relaxes and quits being nervous about it or else he will continue this habit if you stop before he relaxes in total acceptance. Once he accepts the chin and muzzle, move to the cheeks. One area at a time. Your final goal is to rub his ears without him caring. Do it each and every time you have him caught to reinforce the lesson that he no longer has to fear having his head touched. It takes time but well worth the trouble in the end.
One more thing, ears with flies bites and also SORE TEETH can make a horse Head Shy. Last but not least, also poor vision.
Again at his age, being hard to catch can be hard to break. Since you can catch him with kindness and treats, I won't go into round penning him and other stuff for IMPOSSIBLE to catch horses. He certainly may get easier to catch as he learns who you are and that you are not a bad human like someone, somewhere in his past was perceived by him to be.