Touchy Feely

Get your horse used to being touched around his ears, eyes and mouth.

From AQHA’s Fundamentals of Horsemanship

The head is a very delicate area, and many horses show confidence problems when touched here.

By desensitizing this zone, you will make life considerably easier for you and your horse. You will be able to treat his eyes, administer worming paste, and have him examined by the dentist without any problems. Grooming his mane or clipping his poll and ears will not result in a head-butt, and you will be able to bridle the horse without him becoming defensive.

Once you can stroke all parts of his head, ears, eyes and mouth, you will be able to deal with him much more easily.

Ears: With the horse’s head lowered, run your hand slowly along his neck toward the ears. Then withdraw your hand just before he reacts.

The timing for these exercises is very important. Withdrawing your hand once the horse has already reacted will reward 'bad' behavior. Practice your timing with the exercises found in AQHA's Fundamentals of Horsemanship.

Eyes: To pass your hand across his eyes, start from an area where he accepts your touch. Using a circular movement, gradually approach his eye, taking care to withdraw your hand before he reacts and moving it to an area where he appreciates being touched.

Mouth: To touch his mouth, you must start by touching his lips. Gradually insert your finger into his mouth in the gap between his teeth where the bit lies. Bear in mind that you should reward absence of reaction with relaxation and that you must patiently persist if the horse reacts.

Make sure the horse has understood that as soon as he accepts something which is in principle unpleasant, it will stop.

If he knows he can find your “off switch,” he will accept you more easily.

Horsemanship Concepts

    • The difference between sensitization and desensitization just depends on the moment at which you stop.
    • Your horse’s reactions are not personal; they are just natural.
    • Do it for the horse, not to him.

Errors to Avoid

    • Do not let the horse think that the best way to avoid this situation is to raise his head, behave defensively or be generally uncooperative.
    • Do not reward reaction by stopping at the wrong moment.
    • Do not become fixated on a little problem. It will only get worse.

It can be easy to turn a small problem into a big one. A true horseman knows when to move on and never takes out his frustration on his horse. Learn to be that type of horseman with AQHA's Fundamentals of Horsemanship.

Tip for Success

    • “Expose but don’t overexpose.”
    • The horse needs your confidence to find his own.
    • Remember that perfection is the result of many small improvements.
    • Don’t provoke a fight.
    • You must be constantly aware of your position and protect your vulnerable areas.