Headshy/Skittish Rescue? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 6 Old 02-21-2015, 07:15 PM Thread Starter
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Headshy/Skittish Rescue?

I recently began volunteering at a horse rescue. For some background, I grew up helping my cousins with their horses, but most of my experience was with halter-leading and feeding. I am quite a newbie with horse terminology, and I've not heard the term "headshy" before. But if it means what I think it means, it applies here.

One of the horses (named Oreo) at the rescue that I volunteer at seems to be pretty sensitive about having her head handled. She doesn't mind being stroked on the neck or back, but any attention to her face causes her to lay back her ears and try to get away.

Is this the "headshy" I've been hearing about here? And if so, what are some things I can do to try to help miss Oreo with this? We don't know much about her -- she's probably in the 10-15 age range, but no guesses on her breed. She (along with three "herd mates") came in from an apparent neglect situation. While the other horses seem fine, we wonder if Oreo has some abuse in her past that might have led to her skittishness. Again, nothing we can know for certain, but that is a possibility. While she does have a skittish/nervous demeanor, she does seem more approachable when given time to adjust.

Any thoughts or tips on how to make this lovely girl more comfortable would be appreciated! Like I said, I'm pretty new to some of this, so I want to make sure I'm giving her the best care possible.
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post #2 of 6 Old 02-21-2015, 08:29 PM
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IMHO, if you do not now more than leading and feeding, you should not be rescuing horses.

Yes. "Head-shy" means literally what it sounds like. A horse that is shy to have its head messed with.

A common thing inexperienced people do with head-shy is not mess with their head. The more you mess with their head, the less head-shy they'll become.

Another common thing inexperienced people do is try hold the horse's head down and force them to accept. This will not work. That will only make them more head-shy.

Make soft, slow movements around her head at first. Do not try to hold her head down. If she pulls away, do not lower your hand, as this releases pressure and tells the horse that pulling is the right answer. If she makes even the smallest lowering of the head, lower your hand and step back. This is releasing pressure, which tells the horse that lowering the head is the correct answer. This goes back to the saying, "Make the right thing easy (release) and the wrong thing hard (pressure).

Continue doing the method of pressure and release. Your goal right now is not to touch her head but to get where she doesn't pull back. Once she gets more comfortable, try stroking her cheek. This way, she can still see you and your hand. Slow, soft strokes. If she pulls - pressure and release. Continue to softly stroke her cheek until she get comfortable. Then work on moving to the for forehead, more sensitive areas, and harder stroking pressure.

Note: When you stroke at first, make it soft enough so she can feel in, but not so soft that is feels like a fly and irritates her.

My horse can tell you more about me than I, myself, can.
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post #3 of 6 Old 02-21-2015, 08:39 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by rinseneat View Post
IMHO, if you do not now more than leading and feeding, you should not be rescuing horses.
Sorry, perhaps I should clarify that. I'm volunteering AT a rescue. For the most part, that means pretty basic barn-work -- mucking, feeding/watering, waking, etc. I'm certainly not doing any training, medicating/first-aid, or anything like that.

I just want to make sure I'm doing the best I can when I'm working with this particular horse. I'd love to be able to incorporate things that help her (like your suggestions of how to handle her face/head), and avoid doing anything that might worsen the matter.
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post #4 of 6 Old 02-21-2015, 08:42 PM
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Oh. I though you mean you were rescuing horses, but all you knew was how to lead and feed. I'm sorry for the misunderstanding!

My horse can tell you more about me than I, myself, can.
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post #5 of 6 Old 02-21-2015, 10:49 PM
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Some are head shy and some just don't like their faces petted. If she's ok with being haltered and tied then she's probably one that doesn't like being petted on the face.

R.I.P. JC 5/19/85 - 12/9/14. You made my life better.
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post #6 of 6 Old 02-22-2015, 02:56 AM
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When she has the halter on and you have the lead rope rub/scratch her up the underside of her neck and when she is happy with that progress to rubbing her under her jaw, most horses like this as it is a place they cannot reach. Once happy with that you can move your hand to the side and slowly progress.
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