6 Things Horses Don’t Like (And How to Handle Them)

If you’ve been around horses for any length of time, you’ll know that there are some things that make them very unhappy. While some of these things you might expect, others often catch new or beginner horse owners by surprise.

Over the years I’ve been able to pick up on some of the biggest pet peeves of horses. Here are 6 things that horses dislike that you should be aware of:

Things Horses Don’t Like

Foreign Objects & Creatures 

Most of the horses that I have seen and dealt with are not big fans of the unknown, particularly when it comes to foreign objects and creatures. Here are some of the objects and creatures that horses tend to take issue with:

Butterflies.

Horses are very large creatures, so it’s almost comical that they would be frightened of something as small as a butterfly. And yet, it happens to quite a number of horses. The small and unexpected flash of color can easily spook them.

Butterflies aren’t the only small critters that can startle a horse. They can be just as easily startled by birds, crickets, frogs, and anything else that might appear before them suddenly.

Cats, Dogs, and Other Animals. 

In addition to small critters, horses can also take issue with somewhat larger animals like cats and dogs. If a horse hasn’t been previously introduced to these animals, their natural reaction might be to kick or bite.

Because of this, it’s important you lay a solid foundation of training before bringing your pets around one another. To learn how to horseback ride with a dog around, you can check out the article I wrote here.

Children. 

Children make it to the list because they have a tendency of making sudden loud noises and running around. Many horses don’t have much experience around children, meaning they can view children as potential hazards.

My dad learned the hard way as a child that you shouldn’t sneak up behind a horse. He received a strong kick but thankfully only suffered minor injuries.

Things Laying on the Ground. 

Anything unknown that is laying on the ground has the potential of freaking out your horse. Ropes, plastic bags, and even their own shadows are all things that you should be mindful of when working with horses.

If you’re going to be working with a new horse, it’s a good idea to make sure that the ground is cleaned up around the area that you’ll be working so as to prevent any issues.

Cars Driving By. 

Cars can be very frightening for horses. Especially if they spend the majority of their time in a secluded field away from most roads. Rarely does a horse see something as large and loud as a vehicle. They should be introduced slowly in order to get them used to the experience.

How to Help a Horse That Doesn’t Like Foreign Objects & Creatures

Rather than trying to keep your horse from ever facing something that will make them uncomfortable, the best approach is to train them how to handle unexpected situations in a safe and controlled manner.

The way to do this is through desensitization training or bomb-proofing. A lot goes into this training process, but the results that you’ll see will be well worth it and will improve your riding relationship with your horse for the duration of their life.

Here’s our Bombproof Training 101 Guide that will walk you through the entire process.

New or Poorly Fitted Tack 

Your tack plays a significant role in determining how happy your horse is. Here are the two areas with your tack that can cause issues if you’re not careful.

New Tack. 

Horses have great memories. If you’ve used the same saddle with them a hundred times, they’ve likely become quite accustomed to how that saddle sits and feels. (You can find all the saddles I recommend here.)

When you introduce a foreign saddle like a western saddle to a horse that has only ever been ridden with English saddles, they won’t be very happy at first. Therefore, you should exercise caution and try not to rush into situations where your horse is likely to have issues.

Poorly Fitted Tack. 

Tack that is too large or too small for your horse can be incredibly uncomfortable and dangerous for your horse. Before you buy a new piece of tack for your horse, you should make certain that it is the correct size and that it won’t be harmful to them. You can check out this article for tips on choosing the right horseback riding gear.

How to Help a Horse That Doesn’t Like New Tack 

If your horse isn’t fond of the new saddle you’ve purchased, you shouldn’t immediately try to ride them with it. Rather, it’s better to tack them up and perform groundwork with them so that they can get used to moving comfortably with the new load.

If you’re having trouble getting the saddle on them in the first place, it will be helpful to review my guide for desensitization training.

Weird Sounds 

When it comes to things that horses dislike, sounds are no exception. Bizzare sounds are just as likely to spook a horse as a butterfly or misplaced rope, so it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of the common ones that horses take issue with.

A Rider Sneezing. 

For a horse that’s used to subtle commands, a sneeze from a horseback rider might as well be a battle cry telling them to take off as fast as they can. Mind your sneezes until you’ve done some work with your horse on the ground to ensure they won’t react in a negative way.

Zippers. 

I’ve experienced first hand how frightened a horse can become from the sudden zip of a zipper behind their ears. Zip with caution!

Plastic Bottles. 

The crackle of plastic water bottles can drive horses crazy. If you’re going trail riding on a horse that you don’t know and you plan on bringing some water, think about utilizing a bottle that won’t make as much sound.

Musical Instruments. 

Flutes, guitars, harmonicas, if your horse hasn’t heard it before, they won’t appreciate an unexpected concert. Keep this in mind before you get the band back together with your horse around.

How to Help a Horse That Doesn’t Like Weird Sounds

Horses will adjust and become used to sounds over time. If your horse struggles with a particular sound, gradually introduce it to them in a controlled environment until it no longer phases them. It’s a good idea to introduce new sounds to your horse on a regular basis to help prepare them for anything.

Not Enough Excitement 

Horses get bored just like we do. Doing the same exact routine day after day is the perfect recipe to produce an unhappy horse.

In addition to monotonous routines, horses don’t like being confined in small spaces for long periods of time. Your horse should be let out every single day so that they can enjoy the sunshine, fresh air, and wide open spaces.

How to Give Your Horse More Excitement 

The best way to make your horse happy is to keep life interesting for them! Challenge their minds. Experiment with new training techniques, bring them new treats and take them on long walks to new places. It’s your job as the caretaker of your horse to give them the best quality of life that you can.

Non-Stop Training 

While it’s good to provide plenty of excitement for your horse, you should avoid overtraining them. If you overtrain your horse, you can be putting them at a much greater risk of injury. You can read more about this and other training mistakes in an article I wrote here.

How to Find a Balance in Your Horse Training

In order to prevent injury and avoid overexerting your horse, it is a good idea to take days off. Every time you bring your horse out, it shouldn’t just be to give them an intense workout. This will quickly teach your horse that you’re someone to be avoided. Make sure you reward your horse with a well-earned day off on a regular basis.

Bad Training Techniques 

Training is important, but it’s important that you do it right. Otherwise, you can create more problems with your horse than you solve. Here a few things your horse won’t appreciate when it comes to your training routine.

Inconsistency. 

If you reward your horse for an action one day and then scold them the next day for the same exact thing, you’ll be sending some very mixed signals to them.

In order for your horse to succeed, there must first be a clearly defined expectation of what success looks like. Make sure you know what your ultimate goal is each and every time you begin a new training exercise with your horse.

Being Too Harsh. 

It takes a firm hand to work with horses because of their great size, but there is most definitely a line that you should not cross. Horses appreciate respect. Being overly harsh with them in your training does not work in anyone’s favor.

Never Giving Your Horse a Break. 

As mentioned in the previous section, your horse will perform at their best when they are able to get plenty of rest mixed in with their hard workouts.

Not Giving Instructions With Authority. 

When you work with your horse, they should look to you as the leader. As a leader, you must operate with confidence and authority. If you don’t, your horse will be far less willing to follow the instructions that you give them.

How to Avoid Bad Horse Training Techniques 

The best way to avoid bad horse training techniques is to study up on the correct training techniques. The more you’re grounding in the right way of doing things, the less likely you are to make mistakes. Here’s an article I wrote that covers the 5 best basic groundwork exercises to master with your horse.

You can get back to all of our latest articles by going here. Happy trails!

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Things That Horses Don't Like