Rubbing their heads on you - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 51 Old 12-11-2011, 06:38 PM Thread Starter
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Rubbing their heads on you

What is the best way to handle horses rubbing their heads on you? I've read a small slap, a firm "no", a fingernail poked into the gums/side with a firm "quit", pushing their heads away.

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post #2 of 51 Old 12-11-2011, 06:47 PM
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You need to teach the horse not to invade your space, that is a circle around you the length of your arm. You can do this by using a riding crop and just waving it side to side (about waist height) rhythmically. If he walks in to it, he'll back up or at least move away. Usually once is enough for him to respect the crop so you have to do this consistantly until he learns how close he's allowed to come. You can also train a voice command at the same time. Be sure to give him a good rub under the halter or bridle as they are often itchy because of the thicker winter coat.
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post #3 of 51 Old 12-11-2011, 06:50 PM
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I have one mare that loves to have her head scratched (like above where her eyes are) but she isn't a fan of being touched. So she'd prefer to just rub her head on me. I do NOT allow her to rub while tacked up, bridled, or on a lead. Ever. But when she is in her stall and I go in to visit her, if I INVITE her to rub on my back, she will gladly do it.

I always taught them not to do it with a jerk on the lead line/ shank, and a firm NO. That is the same thing I do to discourage ANY behavior that is unacceptable. That way it consistent, and they understand that the jerk and firm NO means that what they were doing was unacceptable. None
of mine have really ever been what I would consider "problem horses" so it's works just fine for me.

If your horse isn't on a lead or anything and is doing something unacceptable a firm clap and a NO is what I would do. They don't like the sudden clapping sound and it gets their attention.
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post #4 of 51 Old 12-11-2011, 07:42 PM
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Whenever one starts to rub on me, I will drive them out of my space immediately, usually by pushing them to back up for 10-15 steps or until they are moving in a relaxed and respectful manner. I'll do that every single time they touch me with any part of their head. If that doesn't quell the problem (usually it does, though), I am not above giving them a firm slap on the nose or jowl to get their head away from me.

However, if I resort to smacking them, I make sure to spend plenty of time around them desensitizing them to fast movements of my arm and scratches/pats on their head. If you smack them and don't do this, you'll end up with a headshy horse.
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post #5 of 51 Old 12-11-2011, 08:04 PM
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My horse gets a very itchy little head after he is ridden (poor guy :P). He is not allowed to scratch anything with his bridle on and when it's off he is not allowed to rub on me. He has a curry mit that he loooves to rub his head on and I'll scratch him with it - so leaning on my hand in that instance is acceptable, if the pressure is too much, I simply remove my hand. Same with when I was teaching him acceptable behavior - I simply removed what he was scratching on. Either by moving his head away from the solid object or simply taking a step back, or moving his body back away from me.

It's very simple to teach a horse not to do something. You must remain very consistent and correct the behavior - not punish it. A "tchhh" or "ahh" ALONG WITH moving the horse away from the object they are trying to scratch on is sufficient, however it is also about timing. If I can catch the horse eyeing a post or my shoulder and I say "tchh" and reposition him often times the vocal reminder is enough to interupt the behavior from even beginning.

A respectful horse begins when you understand their body language and start communicating dominance on their level. Correction through body language is huge and for humans it is simply easier to put a vocal cue with the correction. My horse knows "tchh" is his correction cue and he knows the boundaries and that cue means "you're toeing the line there bud" in a variety of situations. Because his handling is done primarily by myself and I am extremely consistent in how I expect his behavior to be every time I am around him, he knows what the "tchh" is about and if he doesn't react I am there to re-enforce my cue by physically moving him where I would like him to "self correct" to on the small verbal cue...
So even stepping his leg forward for a scratch I simply "tchh" if I am at his side, or taking a step towards his front body if I am at his head is often enough to stop the behavior.

Good luck!

They say money doesn't buy happiness -- well happiness doesn't buy horses!
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post #6 of 51 Old 12-11-2011, 08:09 PM
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It seems like it might depend. My mare tends to be head-shy, but she will sometimes put her head next to my shoulder and nudge a little. With her - I've had her 4 years now - that is a request for a head rub with my hands. If busy, I'll just tell her no. If not, I hold my hand out and she then rubs her head against my hand. When I pull my hand away, she stops.

She isn't invading my space or acting disrespectful. She is just asking for a head rub.

However, we recently added a small mustang to our little herd. For the last week, he has swung his head into me. And when he did, he'd be blocked with a forearm. And if that didn't stop it after a couple of times, I'd hit my forearm against the side of his face. After 1.5 weeks, he has mostly stopped doing it.

He came from a stable with hundreds of horses, and I think it is his "I'm a cute pony, give me a treat" act. In any case, it is annoying and won't be tolerated.

For me, the difference is that I know my mare well, and Mia is asking. Cowboy is demanding. But blocking with a forearm seems to be getting the point across without any anger or fuss. Just block and continue with what I am doing.
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post #7 of 51 Old 12-11-2011, 08:41 PM
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Some may disagree with me, but I don't always disallow this behavior. It all depends on the context in which it's done. If the horse is reaching toward me in a sincere kind of way like he's searching for reassurance I wouldn't want to punish him for that. That's a different deal than when they rub on you like your status is the same as a tree branch. I try to notice the attitude with which they do it and respond appropriately.

If a horse did rub on me in a way that I considered disrespectful I might start to rub and scratch him back, but a little harder than what he actually enjoys. Kind of like if you were to scratch your own arm harder than what you'd enjoy, pretty quick it would become uncomfortable and you'd stop. That's how I think of it.

I'm not against popping the lead rope or using your voice in a stern way, and I will do those things when I think they're appropriate but I'm aware of a couple of things when I do it. One, it's apt to make a horse reactive and head-shy if it's overdone and then I have a different problem that I have to go back and fix. Better to avoid creating the problem in the first place. Two, if I use that much firmness habitually it becomes the horse's baseline perception of me. In other words he expects me to be loud and firm all the time. I end up desensitizing him to it and then I end up having to get after him a lot stronger just to get him to do things. That's not my idea of good horsemanship so I try to avoid using firmness unless it's truly necessary. The quieter I am consistently, the more the horse learns to listen and then if I ever do get firm it really has an effect. Finally, I'm real careful that when I do correct my horses that I do so as dispassionately as humanely possible. If I let *anything* that horse does get an emotional rise out of me he will feed off of that and things will get gradually worse instead of better.
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post #8 of 51 Old 12-11-2011, 08:47 PM
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I don't allow any horse to rub his head on my body...ever... Think about it; he is 1100 lbs (give or take depending on his breed), and he has a head that is very large in proportion to your body even; why would you even WANT him to think it's acceptable to use you as a scratching post? A horse that is kind and simply asking for a scritch on the nose, or some petting, is a different story...but you have to know the difference, and even there, a horse can get pushy and demanding, so it's up to you to know what you will tolerate, and what YOU feel is rude, and intrusive of your horse. My mare for example is not usually the 'give me face lovin' type, but when she wants it, she simply looks straight into my eyes, and breathes gently in my face...we will usually just sit there like that looking at each other for awhile, while I stroke the sides of her cheeks.

I do similar to smrobs if I am in a position that I am working sort of at a 'distance' from the animal and he comes into my space...I simply back him out of my space, and I do it with meaning; I want him to know that he is to keep out of my space unless invited to do so. If I am working closely to him, I do like bsms, if I feel that head coming around, I simply raise my arm, and if he hits it, he hits it...he will quickly learn that he needs to just mind his own business regardless of what I am doing to him.

This does not mean any of my horses, or the horses I train lack any affection or attention, quite the contrary; when they are polite, and quiet while I am with them, they get lots of rubs, brushing, and all kinds of attention; but they do not get it when they demand it...ever; that usually winds up in work, which is not the kind of attention he will be looking for!

"The ideal horseman has the courage of a lion, the patience of a saint, and the hands of a woman..."

Last edited by mom2pride; 12-11-2011 at 08:51 PM.
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post #9 of 51 Old 12-11-2011, 08:54 PM
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I know that you're not supposed to let horses 'invade your space', haha, but I let my horses rub their heads on me... I'm not very strict with them because I don't have to be with these guys, but depending on the horse, it could be an issue.

I don't really agree with methods such as poking them in the gums or slapping them like I see so many people do, because most of the time, I see horses become head shy with that. My horses only do it when they're itchy, so when they do, I just start to scratch them in the places they're trying to rub. This shows them that it's okay to ask for a scratch when it's bothering them, and I've never had a problem with it, although there are many other factors involved, like the horse's temperament and your overall relationship with them.
If the horse is crossing the line, as in, being forceful and just doing out of lack of respect, that's another issue. That may call for methods such as poking and a firm word, and if that doesn't work, a slap to get their attention, although hitting shouldn't be a first reaction unless needed.
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post #10 of 51 Old 12-11-2011, 09:44 PM Thread Starter
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Ok, thanks you guys. When the horse did it to me this afternoon it was because he was mad lol. We had been riding, everything went really well, and he and the lead mare were eating grass outside of their paddock. Really good grass. They'd been eating for about 15-20 minutes. The owner took the lead mare back into the paddock and when they stepped away from the gate I asked for a head up and he came up mad, rubbing against me. Then he did it again when I wouldn't let him put his head back down...well, made it come back up.

I just said "hey!" indignantly and "no" and pushed his head away. I think I'm most comfortable with pushing their heads away with my hand or forearm. Anybody see any problems with that? Would it make them headshy?
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