Does your horse bite, cow kick, pin its ears back or flinch away from you while being groomed? Grooming should be relaxing and fun for both of you. If it isn’t here are a few things to consider:
First, be sure that this is not a manners issue. Does your horse bite, kick or lay back its ears while being saddled, lead or during other handling? If it does, then you’ll need to work on respect and obedience.
If your horse is otherwise mannerly, consider that your horse may be sensitive or ‘thin-skinned.’ Horses are somewhat like people in their sensitivity. Some like a vigorous massage, while others might find it too stimulating or even painful.
Often breeds like Arabians and Thoroughbreds are more ‘thin skinned’ than ponies or draft breeds. They don’t like an arduous brushing, and you may have to lighten the pressure on the brush so they can tolerate it. Some may prefer a light whisking off, rather than energetic currying. Others will be able to take a good rigorous brushing with their lips twitching, and eyes half closed. It may be a matter of adjusting your touch to the horse’s sensitivity.
The Brush Might Be the Problem
It may be not just your touch, but the brushes that are the problem. A thinly coated horse may be happier when a soft rubber or 'gel' type curry comb is used, followed by a soft-bristled finishing brush. Try using a coarse cloth or rubber grooming mitt to clean off mud and dust. And be careful with grooming sprays. Thin coated sensitive horses may react to the ingredients in sprays more readily than a thicker coated horse.
Each Horse Is Different
Some horses may be the opposite. They may find very soft, light touches with a brush irritating. Try using a little more pressure.
Some horses have ticklish areas—usually along the belly, ears, on the face and between the legs. They can get quite snappish if you brush these areas even lightly. You can desensitize your horse to make grooming pleasant for both of you.
Desensitize a Horse
To desensitize your horse, try only brushing with pressure it can accept in areas that don’t cause the horse to react. Little by little, push the boundaries. If the horse flinches and reacts negatively, retreat to a ‘safe area’ on its body. Work slowly and stay relaxed. Use your voice soothingly. Don’t try to get the whole horse covered in one day and don’t let it come to a test of wills. If a brush seems too harsh for your horse, start with a cloth or wear cotton gloves and use your hands.
One method that works very well on a horse that dislikes grooming is TTouch. The TTeam website has several articles explaining TTouch and examples that you can try on your horse. Examples of Touch and How to Do TTouchs explain the method clearly so that you can use your new knowledge on your horse right away.
What Sudden Sensitivity Could Mean
If your horse suddenly seems sensitive for no reason look for heat or swelling that may indicate an injury. The beginnings of rain scald or other skin problems or a bruise from a kick may make your horse nip if the area is brushed. As well, mares might be flinching at various times of their estrus cycle. If you suspect this, talk to your veterinarian about possible treatments.