Daily Care – Putting on a headcollar

Daily Care Challenge 2:

It is very important to teach young horses the skills they will need to live in the human world with us. These skills form the foundation of their future training and build a strong partnership with their handlers and future riders. All horses are different, and some will find this challenge more difficult than others. Our most important job as horse owners and trainers is tolisten to each individual horse and allow them the time they need to become confident with each new step in their training.

One of the most basic foundation skills a young horse needs to learn is how to put on a headcollar (or how to have a headcollar put on him). Challenge 2 breaks this down into easy steps.

  1. Teach your horse to accept touch all over both sides of his neck, face, mane and ears. Start where he is comfortable and relaxed, and slowly extend the area your horse is comfortable with you touching him.
  2. Place a soft lead rope or scarf over your horse’s neck and get him used to the feeling of it going over his neck and sliding off again. Start close to his withers and slowly work your way higher up his neck until you are placing the rope over his neck behind his ears. Practise sliding the rope or scarf off both sides of his neck.
  3. Repeat the process in step 2 with different ropes, as they can often have very different weights and feels.
  4. Once he is used to you placing the rope gently across his neck, do it a little faster and less carefully (although without hurting your horse at all). Again, start at his withers and work your way up his neck towards his ears. Practise sliding the rope off both sides of his neck.
  5. Touch the horse’s face with the soft rope or scarf. Touch the sides of his face, over his nose, and under his chin.
  6. Holding the noseband of the headcollar, ask your horse to put his nose into the loop. Reward him at first for any investigation of the noseband, and allow him to investigate and experiment with it. Continue until he is comfortable with putting his nose into the noseband loop.
  7. Without the noseband on his nose, pass the headpiece of the headcollar over his neck and bring it up to behind his ears, hold it there for a few seconds, then release it and let it slide off his neck. If he is worried, start further down his neck and work back towards his ears again.
  8. Repeat step 6, but this time fiddle with the buckle/ties without doing up the headcollar. Release the headpiece and let it slide off his neck.
  9. Pass the headpiece of the headcollar over his neck as before and hold it, then bring the noseband up towards his nose. This will move the headcollar straps on the opposite side of his face. Repeat until your horse is fully relaxed and confident with you moving the straps.
  10. Pass the headpiece of the headcollar over his neck and hold it, then bring the noseband up and ask him to put his nose into the loop.Don’t do the headcollar up yet. Reward your horse with praise, scratches or a treat.
  11. Repeat step 10 but this time fiddle with the buckle as if you are doing it up.
  12. Repeat step 10 but this time actually do the headcollar up. Leave it on the horse for a few seconds while rewarding him for putting it on, then take it off again. Repeat until your horse is confident with the process and the feel of the headcollar on his head.

NB. It is important that putting on his headcollar should not be immediately associated with the handler pulling on the rope to ask the horse to do things, as this could make your horse reluctant to put his headcollar on again in the future.