A Big Step for River

River with his fly mask

Having had a lot of trauma and abuse in River’s life up till coming to On Golden Rescue, one of the challenges we’ve had is that he is what is called in horse terms, “head shy”. Here are a couple of explanations of this phrase:

Head shy horses dislike contact around the head or neck [and] are often easily spooked by objects moving towards or in front of them.

When a horse is “head shy”, they may resist any form of handling around their head, or they may develop a specific aversion, such as to touching their lips or ears.

One reason for this:
The horse has had a bad experience. When pain or fear are involved learning only takes one repetition. If a bit is clanked against teeth, a clipper pinches or burns the skin, or the horse is hit around the head with a hand or whip, they can very quickly become head shy.*

For several months we have gently worked with River to learn to trust us to get near his head, his ears, his face, by calmly brushing him when he allowed it in small bits, or stroking his face quietly, taking our time and having several of us try to stand beside him so that he eventually got used to a few of us touching him. Larry trained with Marianne Berg, our horse specialist and board member to work with River on getting a halter on him. Working consistently with River lead to Larry being able to halter him easily.

As spring turns towards summer and the flies come out in droves, fly masks are such a great relief for our equines to keep the flies away from their eyes and on their faces as they graze. These fly masks cover almost their entire faces and sometimes over their ears.

Larry with River

River was the only one we couldn’t get a mask on. Until the last couple of days! Our weekend care provider, Ashley decided to give it a whirl. She waited until his food was there for him and she closed him in his paddock and then very gently put the fly mask on him. Success! No drama!

I decided to try it this morning, June 6th. Approaching with the same concept as he ate his hay, he even looked towards me and put his head down, which signifies trust and willingness to allow me to do what I needed to do. He and I don’t get to work together as much as our other two care providers, so it was quite an honor for me to have River accept me.

Big step for both of us!

– Gayle Rich-Boxman

*Taken from the article Understanding and Helping the Head Shy Horse horseclass.com 11/2017