How to spot and prevent head shyness in horses

How to spot and prevent head shyness in horses

Head shyness in horses

Horses are not born head shy, it is a learned behaviour, unfortunately somewhere in the past your horse has been handled in a way that makes them fearful of their head or ears being touched. Head shyness can be unbearable when it comes to everyday tasks and if not corrected can lead to either you or your horse getting hurt.

Fortunately, head shyness can be resolved and with time, patience, care, and the right training your horse can overcome their head shyness and be confident in having their head or ears touched.

What is causing your horses head shyness?

There are several reasons your horse is head shy, but it is usually related to an incident that occurred in the past that has made your horse scared about anyone going near his head or ears. There is also the possibility that your horse has a problem that is causing them pain around their head or in their ears. If you suspect the latter, you will need to call out your veterinarian to check your horse to see where the problem lies.

Keep an eye on your horse’s cheek muscles, if they are in pain they will flex/stir their cheek muscles and you will be able to notice this and learn the difference between your horse in pain and afraid. If you suspect that it is fear that is causing your horses head shyness there are ways you can desensitise your horse, but it will take time and patience.

Overcoming head shyness

There are many suggestions out there as to ways to help your horse overcome their head shyness, so we have listed a few ways that may help you with techniques to use to help your horse with their head shyness.


If you have noticed your horse is ear-shy, avoid touching their ears and the area around their ears. This will be a long process, but you will need to do little bits each day to teach your horse that there is nothing to be frightened of.

Start by touching his neck, stroking or rubbing and gradually move up towards his ear, then back down again. You may feel your horse tense as you approach the area by his ear, but if you keep this up, gently getting closer and closer to his ear each time, he will settle and calm a little each time – don’t stop when your horse is tense as he will associate the two.

It will take a while before you can get up close to his ear but be patient and little by little each day you should get closer. When you do get close to his ear only touch it briefly and then move away, he will begin to realise that a touch of his ear doesn’t equal pain.


Sometimes both putting on and taking off the bridle can be the source of your horse’s head shyness, with a focus on the mouth, especially the bit. Again, this can be a problem your horse has with their mouth rather than a fear of the bit or bridle.

There are a number of reasons as to why your horse may be mouth shy and it could be as simple as a badly fitting bit but before you make any change, you do need to ensure it’s not due to any issues with mouth discomfort.

You can check if the bit is not fitting correctly by looking at your horses’ mouth;

  • is it agape?
  • Can they close their lips?
  • Are they holding their lips tensely?

If the bit is applying pressure or is too big, you’ll need to size down. If you feel you may be slightly heavy handed, you can pick a less intensive bit such as a basic snaffle or an egg butt.

Alternatively, you may find that it’s not the bit your horse has an issue with but the process of unbridling. If this is the case it is most often associated with the bit being taken out too roughly and hurting their mouth or teeth. You can encourage relaxing when unbridling, take your time and don’t rush, reward your horse for lowering his head, give him a stroke or massage and remember praise and reward once you’ve removed the bit, without yanking it out.

On the other hand, if your horse is reluctant to taking the bit in the first place, you can trick them by using a treat placed under the bit in your flat palm. Once the horse has taken the treat, they’ll have the bit in their mouth. They will eventually learn to associate the bit and bridle with something positive. You can also coat the bit in honey or something sweet to encourage them.

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