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Help... Horse came back from lease completely head shy!

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  • Help... Horse came back from lease completely head shy!

    My horse was leased for 4.5 years out of town, and I just got him back a month ago. He has been completely head shy since he came home and I'm totally bummed out about it. This was a horse that you could previously do anything to. ANYTHING. I have no idea what happened to him, and I'm hesitant to call the lessee on it because not only is it not worth it since he's home now, but it may have been a problem at the barn he was boarded at and not her. I did go visit him when I could and never noticed anything out of the ordinary with him.

    Anyway, does anyone have any input on working with him? I have been stuffing his face with treats while touching his face and head, but it's slow going. How long does something like that usually take? The big problem is when I go out to his pasture to get him, he acts terrified and doesn't want me anywhere near the front of his body.

    Input/suggestions much appreciated!! Thanks!

  • #2
    You might try Christine over at Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue. They deal with all sorts of problems. If memory serves, they rehabbed one that had been beaten in the head with a 2x4. If they can do that, they might be able to point you in the right direction!
    Good Luck!


    • #3
      Alas, nothing but time, patience and time will undo this --and even then, he may never be totally "normal" again.

      Don't approach him face/head on... enter from the side. Offer a scritch, a treat and walk away. Repeat ad nauseum.

      Everything related to his head, from haltering to grooming, is done on the side... slowly and gently, in small increments.

      So sorry this happened
      <>< Sorrow Looks Back. Worry Looks Around. Faith Looks Up! -- Being negative only makes a difficult journey more difficult. You may be given a cactus, but you don't have to sit on it.


      • #4
        I agree--patience and time. I also wouldn't concentrate on blaming anyone. Yes, someone could have been mean or abusive to your horse, but I think you would have seen the evidence when you visited him, and also I've also seen a couple of horses become very head shy for other reasons. One horse had a painful tooth injury, another had a deep muzzle laceration (both injuries occurred in the pasture). Both horses reverted to normal, non-head shy behavior after a period of time with no special treatment.


        • #5
          Yep. Lots of time. Heck we've had a pony for 8 years almost now that came head shy. We have never popped, hit, flicked nothing at his head but still to this day he has his moments if you come to quick at his head. He has never got over what ever happen to him previously.
          Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole


          • #6
            I purchased a new mare last year that was head shy, very reserved and always nervous when you touched her. I give lots of treats and always approach from the side of her face. She is much better on one side than the other. I make a special effort to go in her stall and rub on her every time I am in the barn.

            I have had her for a year now and she has really come around. I don't think she will ever be like my other horses, who are all over me to a fault, but looking back we have mad a ton of progress.


            • #7
              As most posters are on the negative side, trainer (horsemaster type) got a 7-8 yr old mare that completely freaked if you went anywhere near her head (& especially the ears), a year on , & she was completely fine ...


              • #8
                Just an idea. Have you checked his eyesight?


                • #9
                  Perhaps he might have a cyst or tick deep in his ears? I agree about checking his eyesight.

                  My horse was head shy / ear shy when I bought him last June. Using the clicker gave me my big breakthrough. The clicker allowed him to believe that he was in control. Once he figured out that he could make the clicker go off (by letting me get closer and closer to his head and ears), which caused the vending machine (i.e. me) to dispense treats. His head shyness is completely gone now. It just took a lot of patience and being happy with the smallest of improvements.

                  I apologize if I'm not making sense. My allergies are really bad right now, so I'm on a boatload of allergy meds.

                  I'm sorry that this happened to your poor horse.

                  Best regards,
                  PA Hi-Ly Visible [PA Hi-Noon (by Magnum Psyche) x Takara Padrona (by *Padron)]

                  Proud member of the Snort and Blow Clique


                  • #10
                    How long has he been home?
                    I wouldn't bet it's from the leaser.Heck, the hauler could have been in a rush, put a rope halter on him and clunked him around parelli style, or he could've freaked in the trailer and whacked himself good.
                    It can be as simple as your body language or energy is different than what he's now used to. Some sensitive horses can get very particular.
                    chaque pas est fait ensemble


                    • #11
                      It might be simple bad handling rather than abusive handling. We've had three or four people at my barn teach their horses to be head shy. They grab at the horse's head with a sudden movement. Horse flinches in surprise. Owner drops hand away from horse's head, thereby reinforcing flinch. Repeat same mistake 10 or 20 times, and you've now got a head shy horse.


                      • #12
                        No one can really offer you a time frame for this sort of thing; is is very dependent on the cause of the fear and the horse in question. I had a young mare who was a very sensitive type and came off the track very shy and fearful. I don't think she was treated particularly well, and while she made incredible improvements once she got comfortable with me, she will never be a horse that likes her ears rubbed or is comfortable with strangers popping up in her face. On the other hand, I've had horses that became somewhat headshy following a bad experience get back to normal in a matter of months. Totally dependent on the circumstances.

                        As other people have recommended, make sure you approach him from the side, not the front, and talk to him while you do so. Touch his neck and shoulder before you reach for his head. Don't overwhelm him; start by touching his muzzle each day, just a little scritch, and work up to touching his face more and more. Keep it easy and non-stressful.

                        Definitely don't rule out a physical cause. A painful or abcessing tooth, a deep bruise or fracture, ear warts, or any other physical ailment could be the culprit. Is there a particular area that seems worst?


                        • #13
                          Lots of good advice here.

                          I think you should go ahead and, in a polite way, follow up with the lessee and find out whether there was one specific incident or problem.

                          For your own safety, I would want to know if there might be one particularly strong trigger, lest you work through 99% of the problem and then months down the road encounter the precise stimulus and have a disaster.

                          Thinking of a horse I knew who was wonderful, could be ridden with a crop, lunged, schoolhorse for children, but would absolutely BOLT if she SAW a lunge whip. It was fortunate the instructors at this facility were told this ahead of time, rather than left to figure it out for themselves!

                          I can ride my horses without a sharps container.


                          • #14
                            My old guy did became head shy for a short period of time out of the blue when I was putting his bridle on. It turned out to be tooth. It was diagnoses by a chiroprator and then fixed by the dentist. After the dentist worked on him he was normal again.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by ChocoMare View Post
                              Alas, nothing but time, patience and time will undo this --and even then, he may never be totally "normal" again.

                              Don't approach him face/head on... enter from the side. Offer a scritch, a treat and walk away. Repeat ad nauseum.

                              Everything related to his head, from haltering to grooming, is done on the side... slowly and gently, in small increments.

                              So sorry this happened
                              I had a guy that was a self-proclaimed trainer messing with my horse at a barn where all the stalls were open at the top and the horses could hang their heads out. My guy was and is a puppy for personality and this guy (I later found out when I noticed issues) was whipping my horse and hitting him the face to get him to put his head back in the stall. This guy was never supposed to be near or touching my horse--he was not my trainer, not my friend, and was a rather nasty man to just talk to so I tended to avoid him (as did 99% of the people at the barn--and I later found out he was a dry drunk and just downright cruel to all horses that were not his).

                              My horse is much better (7 years later), but will never be 100% the same again. He's leary now and reacts first and then stops when he realizes no one is doing anything like that to him, but rather just surprised him. I think I should make it clear that when he was out of that situation and I made a point of loving on him all the time, he got over most of it with me pretty quickly, but not entirely.

                              People can really suck--a LOT.
                              "And I'm thinking you weren't burdened with an overabundance of schooling." - Capt Reynolds "Firefly"


                              • #16
                                My first mustang was one I bought from the adopter as a 3 year old. The horse was gorgeous, bay roan with a big white blaze and the kindest eyes. However, you couldn't touch his left ear or near his poll. He was better with his right but was still watchful. It took me a month before he was somewhat comfortable with me handling his ears. Made me wonder if his adopter had something to do with it because he didn't have any issues within the ear that I could detect.

                                And you're right, people do suck.
                                Yogurt - If you're so cultured, how come I never see you at the opera? Steven Colbert


                                • Original Poster

                                  The eyesight/tooth/ear issue crossed my mind. I'll have the vet take a look. Not haulers as I went and picked him up myself. He was apprehensive about his face when I picked him up though. I was kind of wondering if it could have been from use of a rope halter, they were using one on him (they tried to give it to me when I picked him up and I declined, only normal halters for me thanks) and he seems the worst about his face right where the noseband of the rope would hit, he also seems very iffy about halters in general now, which is very unlike him. He's been acting shy to everyone at the barn, and some of his old people friends who were very excited that he was back commented on it, as they went to visit him and were very surprised to see him act fearful. I'm definitely not into playing the blame game, I recognize that it's not worth it and it won't help the situation at this point.

                                  He's been home since March 1st. We are making progress, but it's little! I suppose I'll just keep up the patience!! Thanks for the suggestions!