03 Jun Overcoming a Fear of Horses: 11 Tips and Tricks
Horses are incredible creatures, but they can also be very intimidating for beginner horseback riders. I know firsthand the fear that people face as they just start out. But as in most areas, the more you learn, the more your confidence grows.
Here are my 11 tips and tricks for overcoming a fear of horses:
- Tip 1: Overcome Your Fears By Immersing Yourself in the World of Horses
- Tip 2: Take Gradual Steps and Set Small Goals to Face What You’re Afraid Of
- Tip 3: Work with More Experienced Horseback Riders
- Tip 4: Overcome Fear By Learning As Much As You Can About Horses
- Tip 5: Workout to Improve Your Physical Strength and Decrease Your Fear Around Horses
- Tip 6: Make Plenty of Horseback Riding Friends to Support You
- Tip 7: Focus on Your Breathing and Relaxing to Reduce Your Fear Around Horses
- Tip 8: Find the Right Horse for Your Needs
- Tip 9: Wear Protective Equipment to Decrease Fear Around Horses
- Tip 10: Think Positive Thoughts and Speak Positive Words to Reduce Fear
- Tip 11: Face Your Fears by Fully Committing to the Challenge
Let’s look at each tip in more detail for some practical action steps for you to walk away with.
Tip 1: Overcome Your Fears By Immersing Yourself in the World of Horses
If you’re struggling with a fear of horses, one of the best ways to overcome it is by fully immersing yourself in the world of horses. Three ways that you can do this are:
- Spend more time around horses
- watch horse movies and shows (a.k.a. Heartland)
- Follow horse riders on social media
If you’re only making it out to the barn once a month, it’s not very likely that you will decrease your fear around horses. It takes time and commitment to start making progress.
If you have a particularly busy schedule, start looking for ways that you can change things up so you can make it out to the barn at least a couple days a week. This might mean getting up extra early or making adjustments to your work schedule, but these sacrifices will be well worth it once you start seeing the pay-offs.
Another great way to decrease fear and improve your comfort level around horses is to surround yourself in horse-related media. Whether that’s a podcast, Youtube video, or a novel about a horseback rider, do what you can to surround yourself in horse-culture as much as possible.
When I first moved away from home when I was eighteen, I never thought that I would get another horse again. One day, I started to watch the show, Heartland, and it made me dream of riding through the fields and working with horses again. That’s when I got up and went and found my POA pony, Tucker.
Media can ignite a passion inside of you that will help you get over your fear. Media tends to show a majority of good things about horses, so focusing on these aspects instead of the bad will make you see horses from a more optimistic point of view.
Tip 2: Take Gradual Steps and set Small Goals to Face What You’re Afraid Of
By setting small goals to help you overcome your fear of horses, you’ll have something to work towards and look forward to, something that will give you a sense of accomplishment. Here is I recommend doing:
- set a small goal you want to accomplish today
- set a big-picture goal that you want to accomplish in the future
By setting small goals that will help you work towards your big-picture goal, you will be able to track your progress without rushing yourself. This can be a great method to help you build confidence and get more comfortable around horses.
When my husband was rather a newbie to the horse world, the horse he was riding got in a kicking match with the horse I was riding. This made him very apprehensive of horses in general, let alone their hind-end. To work through this, I helped him set small goals to help him get over his fear.
First, I had him simply lead the horse around. Once he was comfortable with that, I had him brush the horse. From there, I had him walk behind the horse, placing his hand on its rump as he went around. While this was a big step for him, it was even a larger leap from where we had come from.
Setting small goals will not only help you get over your fear, but it will also help you learn to trust your horse. Part of your horse learning to trust you is by you placing trust in them. This is what builds a stronger relationship with your animal.
Tip 3: Work with More Experienced Horseback Riders
Working with experienced horseback riders is the #1 way I recommend to help you get over your fear of horses. Here are my reasons:
- They can give advice on how to handle your horse
- Their presence can make you feel at ease
- They know how to handle a situation that’s not going well
I recommend that any beginner rider or anyone who has a fear of horses but want to get over it should invest in a riding instructor. These individuals work solely to help riders learn how to control their horses, whether in the saddle or on the ground. They are used to helping people who are dealing with a certain fear when it comes to working with their horse.
Working with an experienced horse person gives you the ability to glean from their knowledge and seek advice when you don’t know when to do. Their presence can make you feel more at ease as you work with your horse, knowing that they can step in and help if something goes wrong.
If you’re new to the horse world and have a fear of horses, having an instructor is a godsend. The majority of the best horse people you meet didn’t get there by themselves, but with the help of instructors who poured their knowledge into them.
Tip 4: Overcome Fear By Learning As Much As You Can About Horses
Have you ever heard the phrase “knowledge is power?” This is certainly true when it comes to dealing with horses. If you’re feeling afraid of equines, it’s probably because you feel as if you lack the knowledge you need in order to control them; this can leave you with a sense of helplessness. The feeling of helplessness is a horrible feeling. By increasing your knowledge, you’ll feel more confident in how to handle your horse.
Here are some ways you can increase your knowledge of horses:
- work with an instructor or another experienced horse person
- talk to your equestrian friends
- study training material in books and videos
- research horse behavior and health
- spend time around horses
Learn to soak up all the advice and knowledge you receive. Don’t be afraid to ask your instructor or your friends’ questions. When it comes to horses, knowing how to do something isn’t enough; you must understand why you do certain things and what response it should elicit from the horse. Dive deeper into what your instructor tells you and don’t forget to ask them: Why?
While a big part of increasing your knowledge and expertise of horses is by interacting and simply doing, studying training material is a great way to learn the theory behind what you’re asking the horse to do. When you can recognize the response that you need to get from your horse, training will become easier.
Lastly, simply spending time around horses and getting comfortable in their presence will help you to gain knowledge of your equine. Watch how the horses react to certain things and how they behave towards each other. Take it all in. You’ll start to notice that the same mannerisms and body language your horse exhibits to other horses will be exhibited to you.
Tip 5: Workout to Improve Your Physical Strength and Decrease Your Fear Around Horses
You may be intimidated by horses due to their massive size and sheer strength. Next to them, you feel like a small and puny bug and you may start to doubt your own abilities. By working out to improve your physical strength, you can help to decrease your fear of horses. Here’s how it works:
- You’ll feel stronger
- You’ll feel better about yourself
- You’ll build muscles and stamina for riding
Having a great workout is a wonderful feeling, sore muscles and all. It’ll help you to mentally feel more confident in yourself as well as in your own strength. Horses are big creatures; knowing that you have the strength to handle one can help you get over your fear of horses.
To feel secure and comfortable in the saddle, build the correct muscles used for riding. Building your muscles will help you to balance in the saddle and deal with the exertion of riding. This will help you to feel more secure on top of your horse as well as getting you in shape!
Tip 6: Make Plenty of Horseback Riding Friends to Support You
It can be hard if you don’t have a support base for something you’re passionate in. Here are some reasons to make some horseback riding friends:
- Friends will keep you motivated
- They can offer advice
- They can stay optimistic even during a difficult situation
- You can reignite your passion for horses by talking to them
Finding some friends that share your interest in horses should help to build your confidence instead of building your fears. Having friends with like-interests helps to keep your passion alive; they’ll encourage you when it gets tough and help you to get over things that may scare you.
A good friend always finds the silver lining in a situation; no matter how afraid you are of your horse, they’ll help you to take the necessary steps forward to overcome that fear; they’ll help you to see the big picture. Having someone to confide in is the best feeling, especially when you feel like you’re stuck.
Tip 7: Focus on Your Breathing and Relaxing to Reduce Your Fear Around Horses
If you’re timid around your horse because they always seem to tense up when you’re around, check yourself. Are you tensing up when you work with your horse? Do you hold your breath and jump at the slightest movement of your horse? If so, your horse is probably tense because they’re just feeding off your emotions. Horses tend to do that!
Focusing on your breathing and relaxation when your horse is around can have many positive effects when it comes to your confidence. Here’s a list of how this can help you:
- Makes your body language softer and more approachable for your horse
- Relaxes your body so your horse can’t feel how tense you are
- Helps your horse to positively associate you with good feelings
- Helps you to feel more in control and confident
When people get nervous, it’s as if they lose control of their body; their heart rate speeds up and their muscles tense. If you’re on your horse and this happens, your aids become insufficient and you cause the horse to tense up as well. By focusing on your breathing, this will help you to keep your body relaxed and your heart rate down, signaling to your horse that everything is alright.
Horses can either positively or negatively associate depending on the vibes that something puts off; if your horse has learned to associate you with frustration and anxiety, then you can expect them to start getting anxious anytime you come around. However, if you can make the atmosphere around you relaxed and welcoming, your horse will start to positively associate you with a good time.
Tip 8: Find the Right Horse for Your Needs
Finding the right horse for your needs is a big part of getting over your fear of horses. A good horse will help you to:
- build confidence
- learn to trust horses
- learn how to communicate effectively with horses
If you have a certain fear of horses, taking lessons on a lesson horse is the best way to find a horse to help you build your confidence, learn to trust, and learn to communicate. Lesson horses were trained to be these things for timid riders; these horses are considered as much as the teacher as the instructor would be!
Lesson horses are very well-trained and have been exposed to many situations. These horses are a great place to start when it comes to getting over your fear of horses. Most people fear horses because they don’t know how to control them; by riding a lesson horse, you will be taught how to effectively control and communicate with a horse. This will give you more confidence when it comes to being around horses in general.
To ride a lesson horse, you will have to take riding lessons from an instructor. Some stables also offer their lesson horses up for partial leases. Either way, I highly recommend taking this road before you purchase a horse of your own. You don’t want to purchase a horse that you can’t handle. Lesson horses will give you the experience you need so one day, you can buy your own horse.
When the day comes to purchase your own horse, you’ll want to make sure you know how to find the perfect one for you. Click here to see some tips that will help you choose the horse that is right for you.
Tip 9: Wear Protective Equipment to Decrease Fear Around Horses
Wearing protective equipment can help diminish the fear of injury when it comes to dealing with horses. Here is some of the protective gear you can find:
- ASTM-approved horseback riding helmet
- safety vest
- proper foot attire
- reflective gear
If you’d like to check out some of the protective equipment I would choose, check out my recommended products page by clicking here. A horseback riding helmet will protect your skull in the event of a fall or a blow to the head while a safety vest will help to cushion the impact of a fall. Proper foot attire will keep your feet safe if you were to get stepped on and reflective gear will make you visible to motorists or passers-by if you’re riding in residential areas.
Not only do these pieces of equipment help to keep you safe but just knowing that you’re wearing them can give you peace-of-mind. For example, I have a somewhat irrational fear of riding by the road; my horse does great at it, but it freaks me out. I’ve gone and watched The Horse Whisperer one too many times if you know what I mean. A reflective vest makes me easily seen by motorists; knowing this helps me rest easier whenever I ride by the road.
Sometimes having the security of protective gear can instantly make you more confident when dealing with horses. Safety. gear is like insurance; you may never be in a situation where you need it but on the rare occasion that you are, you’ll know that you have that extra protection.
Tip 10: Think Positive Thoughts and Speak Positive Words to Reduce Fear
It can be easy to quickly get down on yourself due to the fears you have, especially as an equestrian. In a sport where you’re constantly being judged and critiqued, positivity can be missed. Keeping a positive outlook will help you to overcome your fear of horses in a few ways:
- It will help you look forward to seeing your horse and trying new things instead of dreading it
- It can help you to build confidence
- It can help you take joy in the small accomplishments
It’s proven that thinking positive thoughts and speaking positive words, even when you don’t feel like it, can improve your mental state. Fear is something that gets in your head and points out that everything you do is wrong; this makes it easy to think of yourself as a failure.
When you replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts, you’re telling yourself that you can do it and that it’s not impossible. Thinking positively will help you to see the things your horse does correctly, even the small things. Noticing this and praising your horse will help your horse to feel more confident and comfortable in your presence, strengthening your bond overall.
Tip 11: Face Your Fears by Fully Committing to the Challenge
Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Sometimes, the only way to get over a fear is to do something that we are afraid to do; in other words, we must fully commit ourselves to overcome the challenge. There are a number of reasons this will work:
- You decide that a failure is no longer an option
- Your horse will sense your newfound confidence
- You have a goal that you can envision
Yes, the jump may seem way too big for you to go over, but sometimes there’s only one way to advance to the next stage of your training and abilities as an equestrian. Keep in mind that it’s important to work gradually towards your goal; however, it’s still going to take courage to take the last step.
Ask any horse rider and they’ll tell you that at one point or another, they’ve been scared. It can be daunting to put your trust in an animal that has a mind of its own, but it also happens to be one of the most rewarding things you can do. Commit to completing the challenge and your horse will feel your confidence; horses feed off of confidence and it quickly empowers them.
Remember when I mentioned that knowledge is power? We wrote an article to provide you with the knowledge to care for your horse; check out 50 Tips for New Horse Owners: Everything You Need to Know.