Riders are continuously looking to bond with their majestic horses. One of the main things that can come between a rider and its horse is fear, and unfortunately, many things can trigger anxiety in a horse. A scared horse poses a threat to its rider. Finding the underlying reason for your horse's stress will take some patience, but it is essential for your safety and your horse's.
On the bright side, you can desensitize a scared horse from the things that cause fear. As a rider, you may be wondering how you can calm a frightened horse, especially since horses become unpredictable in this stage.
Is it Normal For a Horse to Be Scared?
Yes - it's normal for a horse to get spooked occasionally. Horses are prey in the wild, so the instinct to protect themselves is engraved in their DNA. Equine fear reactions often occur when the horse feels they are in danger.
Fear is an important survival mechanism for most animals. The horses that survived in the wild were the ones that could identify danger and escape quickly. These survival characteristics persisted from generation to generation.
It's not only wild horses that have this trait. Survival instincts are also evident in domestic horses. For example, when your horse gets scared at the sight of a car, they are trying to protect themselves from the perceived threat.
Are Some Horse Breeds More Prone to Fear?
Thoroughbreds and Arabians are more prone to fear because of their jittery nature. They love to be on the run, and confining them often results in anxious behavior. Generally, horses that don't have a firm bond with their riders will spook easier than other horses.
On the other hand, heavy draft horses that perform labor are typically more manageable. Breeds with a history as a warhorse, like Shires or Andalusians, are also less likely to shy from uncertainty.
Why Do Horses Get Scared?
Unfamiliar occurrences can cause fear in horses. In many Disney movies, the horse gets frightened by a small furry mouse running by. It seems odd that a dignified animal like a horse would fear something so little! However, there are stranger things that can cause a horse's fear level to rise.
Here are just a few things known to cause fear in horses:
- Plastics bags
- Open umbrellas
- Velcro being pulled apart
- Traffic cones
Some of these examples may seem bizarre, but horses can get startled by the smallest things.
Your horse can experience separation anxiety. Since horses are herd animals, they may panic when they are separated from their pen mates. Anxiety around training and performance are also common in young horses. Horses are eerily attuned to their rider's disposition, meaning they can sense the rider's tension. Therefore, if the rider is frightened, the horse will be too.
Scared Horse Behavior
Being on or around a scared horse can be dangerous. These large animals tend to move sporadically when frightened. Sometimes their fearful behavior can resemble aggression, which puts the rider at risk of being bucked off or even kicked.
It is essential to notice behavioral changes before your horse starts acting wild. Observing your horse's ears or head position can prevent harm from occurring. Here is a list of signs to look out for when it comes to horse fear.
Related Article: Taming an Aggressive Horse [Symptoms & Calming Remedies]
Symptoms of Fear in Horses
Once you know what to look for, fearful symptoms in horses are easily recognizable. Here are some common indications of equine fear to be aware of.
- Flickering ears: If you notice your horse's ears flickering back and forth, their surroundings may be frightening them. Once you see their ears tightly pinned back, it is time to step back.
- Curled muzzle: Your horse may be noticing a strange scent in the environment. If you hear your horse breathing in and out deeply, they could be stressed.
- Weave-walking and stall-walking: If you notice your horse swaying side to side like they're about to faint or walking around in a closed area, your horse may be anxious. This walk can strain your horse's joints and ligaments. The behavior can also cause your horse to exert too much energy, causing it to be underweight.
- Shaking or trembling: A scared horse will visibly quiver during rides.
- Rolling eyes: If you notice your horse's eyes turn white, they are probably scared. Trembling often occurs with this behavior.
- Rising head: While riding your horse, you may notice it lifting its head to look out in the distance. This movement indicates they sense something unfamiliar approaching.
- Rearing: Rearing occurs when a horse stands on their back legs. The position allows them to strike with their front hooves if needed.
- Bolting: A horse may quickly run off and get as far away as possible from the object that startled it. This behavior can occur during rides, leaving the rider holding on for dear life.
How to Calm a Scared Horse
Being able to calm down a frightened horse is a useful skill for any rider. It is crucial to have your horse examined if they display fear regularly. Your horse may be anxious or stressed due to medical discomfort. Once your horse gets the green light from your vet, here are some things you can try:
Talk to Your Horse
Speak to your horse in a soothing low tone to ease their fear. If you are in the saddle, you need to be as calm as possible. Your voice can reassure a scared horse that there is nothing to be afraid of.
When your horse is panicked, quick movements can cause them to overreact. You need to stay calm and move at an average pace. Horses can detect body tension, so try to relax your shoulders as well. Once your horse realizes that you are okay, they will follow your lead.
Ask Your Horse to Lower Its Head
Asking your horse to lower its head helps them refocus on you. It may help them alleviate some stress. Over time, your horse will learn to lower their head when feeling anxious.
Let the Horse Inspect
Once you have a special bond with your horse, you can allow it to inspect the object that is causing fear. This practice helps prevent panic attacks in the future by letting the horse become familiar with the feared object. As we mentioned, there are silly things that can make your horse jump. Patience and time can not only relax your horse but also create a stronger bond between you and your regal friend.
CBD for Horse Fear
If you notice your gentleness is not causing much of an impact, and your horse is still showing signs of fear, it is time to try a more creative approach. The praise surrounding full-spectrum cannabidiol (CBD) oil has been circling in the equestrian community, and for a good reason.
Due to the compound's beneficial properties, CBD may help calm a horse down and ease fears or phobias. It is known to promote a calming and tranquil disposition, which can be useful if your horse is uneasy or tense. You can drop CBD oil in your horse's mouth, or you can feed them CBD pellets.
How to Get a Scared Horse to Trust You
If you have just gotten your horse, your four-legged friend needs to familiarize itself with you. Grooming your horse by hand can help create a bond and allow your horse to get accustomed to your energy. You can also try meditating with your horse or even reading a book to them!
All requests you make to your horse must be gentle. Try not to breathe heavily and keep your energy calm. Your horse may need you to be completely present. Sometimes they fear that you, the rider, will leave them. Remember, it takes some time to create a trusting bond between you and your horse.
Gaining a horse's trust will not come quickly. It is nearly impossible to get a horse to trust you in the middle of a fear-fueled breakdown. Instead, owners must gradually earn their trust as a method to quell fear over time.
How to Approach & Catch Your Scared Horse
A frightened horse can be very dangerous to approach. The first thing that you should do is remove others from your surrounding to prevent any accidents. It is critical that you do not panic. Your horse can feed off of your energy, and if you stress, it may intensify their fear even more.
Also, do not chase your horse around. It will cause the horse to struggle to escape, leading to the risk of kicking you with its hind legs. Until your horse becomes comfortable with you, you must let them tire themselves before approaching them.
To catch your horse successfully, you should walk up to it throughout the day to give them treats and hugs. Your horse needs to see that you are not always trying to catch them whenever you approach.
Waiting until the end of the day when your four-legged friend is tired and hungry is one of the easiest methods for catching your horse. However, you do not want to bribe your horse. Bribery should not be a long-term solution, as your horse may start to get suspicious after learning that snacks equate to capture. Your horse will eventually tire and give in, but do not reject their need for water.
Training a Scared Horse
Training a scared horse is difficult. Some believe that a scared horse cannot be trained, but that's not the case. Training is a challenging task because you must continuously comfort your horse. It may take a long time, but once you gain your horse's trust, they are more likely to remain calm.
You can also begin your lesson by giving your horse CBD. This cannabinoid can help compose your horse and make them more receptive to you. If you are new to training horses, it may be best to hire a private trainer to take charge and address any mishaps that occur with a scared horse.
All equestrians want to have a special bond with their horse. Unfortunately, we cannot change the survival instinct of these majestic animals. One can only admire them. We hope that these tips and tricks help calm your scared horses, opening up the door to a fantastic riding experience. Remember to remain patient and try your best to provide a stress-free environment. These practices should help to ease worries and tension. You can learn more about horse care with these posts.