Once a horse is aware of your presence, most will approach you calmly, with interest and without fear. However…
If the horse stands and waits for your approach…
You must first judge the horse’s attitude. Is he respectful, timid, aggressive, friendly, etc.?
If the horse appears scared, you must reassure it before you approach because of its instincts as a prey animal. Horses recognize humans as predators, whether you feel like one or not. Use your voice and breath to reassure the horse, and of course, your intention*.
As a general rule, approach in the area between the head and the left shoulder, never from behind or directly in front. If the horse is choosing to face you directly, you can approach, but move slightly to the horse’s left side to stay in her field of vision. (Moving to the horse’s right is also an option, though many horses will be more used to approach from the left, and you will be better positioned for haltering, as discussed below.)
If the horse is turned away from you in the stall…
Make sure the horse knows you are there. Speak or cluck and see if the horse will turn around. If not, stay at the doorway, making sure you are out of range of the hind feet, and gently swing your lead rope underhand toward him. This is often enough to get him to turn and face you. If not, then with a calm and steady rhythm, continue to swing the rope, letting it first just touch the horse on the hind end and gradually land a bit more solidly on the rump or thigh each time (remember, still underhand). Be ready to stop the rope the moment the horse starts to turn toward you!
If the horse approaches disrespectfully or aggressively, one or more of the following can be appropriate options…
1. Lift hands in front of the horse’s body and take a step toward him to make him retreat.
2. Speak loudly and sternly.
(If Step 1 or 2 has the desired effect, the horse will either re-approach respectfully, stand at a distance waiting for you or turn away.)
3. Back out of the stall and close the door!
4. Get assistance from the owner/trainer.
5. Refer the horse to another practitioner if you find yourself out of your comfort zone.
When you are in a stall with a horse, you should avoid positioning yourself between the horse and his feed bucket or hay. An additional safety strategy is to always keep yourself between the horse and the door in case of a need for a quick exit. More importantly, always close the door almost completely behind you so that the horse cannot slip out but you can open it quickly if you need to retreat. (Do not lock yourself in with the horse.)