Horses are naturally afraid of sudden movements and objects raised over their heads. When horses have been abused or neglected, they have reasons to dislike people and are often even more fearful. One fearful trait is “head shyness”–this happens especially if the horse has been hit in the face or has had its ears twisted or pulled. A “head shy” horse will get startled or back away when you try to pat its head. It takes some effort and patience to help them overcome this. Remember always be confident around a horse.

Steps

  1. Allow the horse to see you, and if he seems nervous, try speaking to him calmly and soothing until he seems relaxed. If you feel nervous, or don’t know what to say, you can also sing (as long as you sing softly that is).
  2. Approach the horse slowly and calmly walk towards the head from their side, and not from the front. Do not look the horse directly in the eye at first; they see that as a threat. Never let a horse sense that you’re nervous, even if you are. Radiate a calm, fearless attitude. If you cannot do this you need to learn how–it is a MUST if you plan to work with horses.
  3. Reach your hand slowly up to his nose. Try not to seem threatening. If the horse draws his head away, drop your hand and step back a few inches. Wait a few seconds before trying again. Horses are so curious that most of them will take a step toward you at this point. That’s a good sign.
  4. Gently rub his nose until he understands you won’t hurt him. Many horses like to explore or nibble with their lips. Let him do this on your hand or sleeve. If you are afraid he might nip you, remove your hand gently and without alarm BEFORE anything happens. Make sure you do not pull your hand away too quickly. Instead slowly retreat. If you startle him, you will have to go back to square one.
  5. Slowly move your hand up the bridge of the horse’s nose to his forehead.Rub the forehead gently in circles and talk quietly to the horse. You can try looking into his eyes now. Do it with your own eyes half-closed in a sleepy expression; don’t stare. If the horse’s eyes are also half-closed this is a good sign meaning he is not afraid.
  6. Stroke and scratch his back and neck before rubbing his face once again.The best places to do this are where horses groom each other: On the bottom part of their nose, on the upper neck right behind the ears, and on the withers (the big bones at the upper base of the neck).
  7. Look him gently in the eye from time to time, and let him look back at you. If anything loud or scary happens around you, absolutely ignore it! This will show him that you are not afraid. Fear is the number one thing horses deal with and they would prefer to have someone else deal with it for them. By showing him you are brave, the horse will start to consider you the “alpha horse” and he will feel more secure around you.
  8. Repeat and be patient. In order to see results you may have to repeat those steps up to 20 days. Horses never forget, and that works both for good and bad experiences.