Melanie, many horses are uncomfortable with touch around their ears, eyes and faces. Also, horses cannot see directly in front of them, so it is possible that your horse is startled by the sudden touch of your hand if he didn’t see it coming. I suggest you teach your horse a “touch” cue to let him know you are about to touch him.
Try the following step-by-step method to teach your horse to accept touch around the face. This technique will increase your horse’s trust by allowing him to anticipate when touch is coming, giving him the opportunity to choose to participate and teaching him that touch is not bad. Once he is trained to accept touch, you can quickly train him to accept clippers and the like.
Step 1: Choose a spot as close to your horse’s face and ears as possible where touch does not cause a negative reaction such as pinning his ears or tossing his head. Use the verbal cue “touch” and place your hand on that spot. If your horse stands still for a half second (which is longer than you thinktry “One Miss” as opposed to “One Mississippi”), tweet with a whistle, treat and repeat.
Step 2: Next you will place your hand a bit closer to the area where your horse is uncomfortable with touch. (Again, start with the verbal cue “touch,” then place your hand on that spot.) Once again, if your horse stands still for a half second, tweet, treat and repeat.
Step 3: This step is the same as step 2, but you will move your hand into the “un-comfort zone,” as I like to call it. If the horse reacts, just try again. Be sure to capture that half second of calm with your tweet and treat. And of course, repeat.
Step 4: Now you will increase the amount of time you hold your hand on the “un-comfort zone.” Be sure to start each touch with the verbal cue “touch.” You will also slowly start to move your hand around the area. By this point, your horse will likely have learned to anticipate the touch when you give the verbal cue, and will likely leapfrog through this step to be able to successfully touch him on and about his face.
Step 5 and beyond: Now that your horse has learned this basic step, you can increase the length of the touch and the intensity of the touch so that you are able to handle and medicate ears, eyes and other areas of the face. I like for my horses to be comfortable with all types of touch, just in case.