What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Resists Contact with Face, Ears or Poll, Head Shy


A horse’s refusal to allow you to touch their ears, face or poll is an undesirable behavior that needs to be resolved. Horses usually become resistant because of poor handling, physical discomfort, or both. Horses try to protect a painful injury in this area by withdrawing when the hand is placed near the injury.

Horses also become very sensitive to handling of their face and ears after a painful course of treatment involving these areas. Sometimes, a behavioral pattern is established that a horse continues to engage in, even if the source of pain or discomfort has been resolved.

  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If you feel the problem is severe or has come on suddenly.
  • Code Yellow

    Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment
    • If you want to rule out any physical issue being a factor in the behavior.
    • If you consider this a chronic and relatively mild problem that is not changing rapidly.
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

your role


What To Do

Help solve the problem. To overcome the behavior, make the "right thing easy" and the "wrong thing difficult." Be very gentle with any painful area, and ALWAYS maintain some pressure on the head as the horse withdraws, instantly releasing pressure when the horse yields by dropping its head. Be careful, as incorrect technique or over-restraint of the head can lead a horse to rear or strike.

What Not To Do

Do not attempt to force the matter unless you are confident in your technique.

Do not use twitches and chain shanks unless you have worked through other methods or are confident in your technique.

your vet's role

Your vet can help you determine whether this behavior is a result of physical pain. If a physical cause is ruled out, look to yourself and others who have handled your horse as both the cause of the problem and the solution. Engage a trainer who knows how help your horse overcome this behavior. Your vet may or may not have an interest in helping you with this.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Do you know why this has become a problem?
  • Was there a wound or skin problem that was treated in the area that lead to this behavior?
  • When did you first notice this?
  • When did you last think your horse seemed normal?
  • Do you notice anything inside the horse's ear?
  • Do you notice any swelling or wounds around the halter or poll?
  • Do you notice areas of irritation or bleeding of the skin inside the ears?
  • Have you noticed any other signs?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

Very Common
Less Common
more diagnoses

further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP