Suppress Your Fear Of HorsesBy Jeffrey Rolo
There is a surprisingly high number of people that possess a simultaneous love and fear of horses. Some can bear little more than admiring them from afar; not daring to approach horses too closely. Others enjoy nothing more than spending time feeding or petting a horse, but balk when it comes to the thought of actually riding or training a horse. If you fall into either category then there is good news for you: you can conquer your fears and enjoy a productive relationship with your horse.
Most of us have probably heard the saying, "we fear that which we do not understand," and there is actually an element of truth to that adage. Obviously if we are afraid of heights the expression bears no merit since we understand full well what it means to be a far distance from the floor! But many fears of animals are indeed brought about by a lack of familiarity and/or understanding, including horses.
Horses have an instant strike against them – they are big animals that are easily capable of hurting or in extreme cases killing a human. Even with the best horse, if a stroke of bad luck strikes or you do not know what you are doing you can be seriously hurt. Before you use this to convince yourself that horses should indeed be avoided consider this: you can also be killed while driving a car, going down a set of stairs or even eating! If we all actually sat down and thought about the assortment of ways we could instantly be maimed or killed just by living life normally… we'd be nervous wrecks!
The reality is most injuries can be traced back to human error rather than a malicious horse. Horses tend to be brutally honest creatures – unlike fellow humans, you know where you stand in the eyes of a horse provided you can understand their body language and ways. This leads us to the best way to combat a fear of horses: knowledge!
If you take the time to study horses and their ways you will quickly learn how to understand their language, and even more importantly how to communicate back to them in a form they'll also understand. This mutual understanding will benefit you both and show you that horses are generally very peaceful animals that prefer nothing more than a strong, fair leader… you!
While it is true that a nervous horseman can successfully train a horse, if the fear is too evident the road will be a harder one to travel. Horses respect strength and conviction – if they begin to question your assertiveness or authority they will be more prone to test your patience. Or worse, a horse may actually try to take over the leadership role and tell you what he will do rather than the opposite.
It is not recommended that you jump on a horse's back until you are comfortable with him, and it's extremely unwise to actually undergo a trail ride when you carry reservations about your partner. When a horse is in foreign territory (such as alongside a road or on a trail) there are dozens of things that can catch them by surprise, whether it be a squirrel darting across a trail, a car approaching them from the rear or even an oddly shaped bush!
Most of these "spook" sessions consist of nothing more than a quick glance, a sudden halt or a little sidestep. Once his confident rider reassures the horse that all is fine, he will continue on his way as if nothing ever happened. On the other hand if a rider freaks out and becomes choked with fear by the horse's relatively small hesitation, the horse will detect the rider's fear and accidentally take it as an affirmation of his initial fear. The rider may very well be in for a bit of a ride at that point.
In the above scenario it is the rider that was to blame, not the horse. It is part of a horse's nature to always be alert to potential threats or predators, and it is your job as a leader to confirm or deny a horse's suspicions. If you are not comfortable with the horse you cannot be a suitable leader for him, and therefore have little business taking him into a situation that can place him and you in jeopardy.
The reason most people fear riding or working with horses is they constantly imagine the worst-case scenarios that can occur, and unfortunately in the end it is these fears that can become self-fulfilling prophecies.
Take for example a roadside horse ride. When you fear the possibility of a car approaching your horse and causing him to spook, you will consciously or subconsciously be on the lookout for cars. As a car approaches, you will inevitably hold your breath and tense up ever so slightly, and the horse will easily detect your discomfort. Since you, the leader, are wary of oncoming cars then your horse by default should be. That is the nature of horses – they follow their leader. Therefore even with a perfectly trained horse, your hesitation will potentially cause the horse to start spooking.
If you fear a horse make sure you develop a steady relationship before entering into a situation that causes you (and therefore your horse) discomfort or unease. Create a connection with your horse via some round pen work if possible. There is no better way to alleviate fears and build a bond of trust between you and your horse than groundwork. When ready to progress to saddle, start inside a riding ring or familiar territory. And finally, once you and your horse are flowing as one, you're ready to confidently take on the world together.