Saturday, November 17, 2012

Help for the Ear-Shy Horse

Today Immy had a full set of tack on (minus reins) for her lunging session!! She looks super sexy in her getup if you ask me - like a proper event horse in the making!

It's hard to tell from the pictures, but she has a gorgeous 4-beat walk. And that trot is a knock-out too! Also notice the back boots - she wore them for the first time and didn't care!

I suppose we can update this list again:

Stuff Imogen Knows How To Do:
- Halter
- Lead 
- Tie
- Crosstie
- Pick up all four feet & stand on the hoof stand for trims
- Shots & deworming (with only minimal fuss)
- Stand for sprays
- Stand for grooming & touching of all parts, ears & legs & belly included
- Blanketing
- Flymask
- Baths (including water on her face)
- Catch in the field
- Trailering
- Lunging loose & on the lunge line
- Saddling
- Surcingles
- Bridle (wearing only)
- Boots & polos

Stuff Imogen Doesn't Know How To Do:
- Everything else

Her lunge session went well today, but we are trouble-shooting with some small things that need to be addressed. Being a bit of a hot-head, the first thing Immy wants to do on the lunge is trot right off. I want her to walk nicely to warm up for a few minutes, but she isn't interested in that - she just wants to GO. I walked with her today for a few minutes in circles, slowly letting her out onto a longer line, giving her the command to trot once I had her all the way out there. That worked pretty well, but it needs work! Her other problem is that when she gets confused, she slams on the brakes and turns to walk in towards me. Trying to send her back out confuses her further, and she always makes the move to turn around and go the other way. Once you get her sorted out, she wants to explode out and power trot away again, which goes back to her not wanting to walk quietly while starting out. Other than that, she is listening to her commands quite well, although she doesn't respond well to commands to slow down when she gets rushy. It's a constant matter of slow down, slow down, quiet down, slow down. And when you do slow down, don't hit the brakes and come in to the middle! 

We also have the enormous issue of how terrible ear-shy she is. She is absolutely convinced that any time I touch her ears, especially her right ear, I am going to ear her. She lets me rub her poll and touch her ears now with relative peace, but putting tack on her head is a huge ordeal for her. Once it is on, she could care less about the halter or bridle being on her head, but getting it over her ears results in panic, bolting, and sideways thrashing. We have a LOT of work to do with desensitizing her to the process of ear handling, but this is something we'll work on side by side with training with tack on. Lots and lots and lots of friendly touches, as well as the command for putting her head down, are on their way. I expect this problem is going to take a very long time, seeing as it is severely ingrained in her mind. Poor, poor thing. 

Readers with headshy horses, what did YOU do to help your critter overcome their fear?


  1. Lots of horses don't lunge well, so she's doing so well! :) She's looking really good and has come so far!

    If she leads well, you could work in hand with lots of walk and trot-walk transitions, using voice commands more than halter pressure. Might make it clearer to her that she can just relax and walk? Once she's solid with that, then walking sideways next to her, so that you are still close enough to reinforce the voice commands (with a little pressure on the halter) will get her thinking that it's just the same as leading (relaxed walking) - if necessary move on a very small circle so that you don't have to walk as far sideways.

    Once you want to start mouthing her, you could long-rein her on a circle rather than longe her - more control over her turning and also speed.

    With the ear-shyness, does she learn better (calmer state of mind) with being rewarded for doing the right thing? Or for having something not work for her? Cos I've seen people get results with positive reinforcement/treats, so that the horse has a more positive attitude to the situation. And others get results with making sure that the contact on the ear stayed whilst the avoidance continued (can be hard to achieve without the horse inadvertently banging itself, which can make it worse).

    Another horse responded well if you followed a routine so he was prepared - before touching his ear you rubbed his forehead, so that touching his ear wasn't coming out of the blue.

    What I've found helpful was separating the ear-touching from you raising your hand. So I put a light piece of twine over the ear (just resting loosely on the ear). Then you can gently move the twine without raising your hand.

    Not sure if any of that helps, but wishing you guys all the best! :)

  2. With all the progress she's made so far I'm sure you'll work through her ear fear together with patience, love, and time. Anyway, she looks amazing, even with her big ol' bubblebelly still tagging along!

  3. I've had an ear-shy horse under my care for about a year and a half now.
    Mostly it was time. Time for her to trust me, accept my touch and learn that I wasn't ever going to cause her harm. She can still be funny about her ears, but she is quite happy for me to handle her ears/halter/bridle with only the slightest head shake.
    It wasn't an easy thing for the mare to learn. As you said with Imogen, it was so ingrained in her brain that it just took time for her to re-learn.
    I have done a lot of groundwork with the ear-shy mare which has increased her trust for me, as well as daily handling.
    Also- every time I praised the mare, I would scratch her just behind the ear. That way she came to associate praise/treats with a rub near the ear.

    Not sure if that helps, but there you go!

  4. Ear-treat-ear-treat-ear-treat...repeat :P

  5. I've started letting my bridles out as long as the cheek pieces will go without the horse being able to spit out the bit, so that I can pull the crown over the ears without having to bend the ears at all. I would combine this with Nicku's treat suggestions. Bridle on, treat, Bridle off, treat. I do this multiple times each bridling session until the horse is relaxed, then I shorten my cheeks and go on to whatever I was doing.

  6. Tried and true method- rest one hand on the crest near the top of the neck while you feed a treat. Repeat daily, slowly moving towards the ears. However, I would be completely stumped with a non-food motivated horse... How enthusiastic is she about treats on her 'approved food' list?


  8. One ear bridle. Buckle. Unbuckle. LOL