Today I want to discuss an important topic with you that I experience regularly, whilst educating people with horses. And that topic is our relationship with FEAR around horses. I guess if we are honest about it, we all hold a certain level of fear around working with horses. This is perfectly normally and to be expected when you are working with a highly attuned flight animal that can run us over at the drop of a hat, quite literally the drop of a hat is all it takes.
I believe the difference that exists in people who have less fear is that they have a stronger understanding about horses and what they are capable of and how to read them better. What I mean by this is that Person A (less fear) who has worked with hundreds of horses their whole life has a different level of understanding and perspective around what horses are capable of and how to read the signs of an impending explosion with a horse. Person B (more fear) who has only recently got into horses and handled only perhaps a few horses in certain controlled situations in most cases has more fear when horses over react. Lets call it ‘experience’. One piece of advice I offer regularly to people starting out on this horse journey is to try and attend different events and mix with different horses and new situations on a regular basis. This will help build your experience together (horse and human) and allow you both to become stronger as one.
I know, it sounds so easy and pretty basic right?! Yes Justin, I know I should go to more places and do more things but I’m even too scared to go near my horse at home sometimes when they are having ‘one of those days’. You know the ‘days’ I’m talking about?? The wind is blowing, it looks like an impending dust storm is approaching and every horse on the property is running around like a chook with its head cut off! Then in you stroll with your new EH halter and lead rope set, ready to connect and do some groundwork…and POW your horse turns on the spot, nearly kicks you in the chest and whinnies as he runs away from you! If you had a meter measuring your fear level, I imagine it would be rather elevated at this point in time. Not only do you not want to be near your horse at this time, you sure as hell don’t want to ride it! We (and our horses) are going to have good days and bad days. What is imperative to do is practice patience and have some perspective when working with your horse and remember there is always tomorrow and the next day and next week, so take your time. There is nothing helpful about getting angry (I remember my mentor used to always say “anger starts where knowledge ends” – Ian Francis). Managing your own fear levels and maintaining a steady path forward with your horse is imperative and try not to focus too much on all the bad things that could go wrong.
There is an old saying I use a lot and that is “Horses know when you know and they also know when you don’t know”. This statement comes up at my events when I am explaining techniques and exercises on how to deal with your fear around horses. Horses will read you like a book, particularly when you are showing signs that you are not the confident leader they were looking for. For example, how you use your feet and body around horses is how I believe they read you. If you are constantly moving your feet around your horse and then having to get out of their way, your horse is likely to seem more worried in those moments of uncertainty. Again, I want to reinforce that they are looking to you as their leader.
Some exercises to work on your FEAR response:
1. Breathe deeply to calm yourself. Always. As often as you can focus on your breath around your horse… do it!
2. Pay attention to your horses feet and also how you are using your own feet. Draw a circle on the ground, about 1-2m in diameter and stand your horse outside the circle and see what happens. If you horse rushes back into the circle and you can’t keep her calmly at a distance from you, without moving your feet, with only energy from your body, we need to work on that first (my ebook and audio on groundwork may help).
3. Once you have covered step 1 and 2, step 3 is to ask for movement and relaxation. I find people with fear issues, become more anxious when speed is added to any exercise. So practice on the ground, applying pressure to your horse on the lunge at the walk, trot and canter. See how your breathing is, are you calm or panicking when they canter and rush off? If you feel yourself tense, we need to build your experience with this on the ground further before jumping on their back and galloping off into the distance.
4. Go to new places! Don’t just work your horse at home, go to new arenas, riding clubs, come to one of these awesome live events I think the guy who runs them is called Justin Colquhoun, I’ve heard they are amazing…(very non subtle plug!). Seriously, just work on building your horses experience in life, expose them to new horses, new situations on a regular basis and it will pay off in the long run. Don’t worry what your family or friends think. Do what you need to do for your horse to build your confidence and conquer your own fear. No exceptions. If it’s just groundwork, just do that for a while until you are back on track.
6. Have fun!
Remember horses are your hobby and passion, you are supposed to enjoy it! Practice the basics consistently and you may be surprised what happens.
I would love to hear from you if this article has been helpful. I really do hope it has helped, even just a little bit. Remember, you are not alone with your fear around horses. Be nice to each other, horses included.
Hope to see down the road at an event soon.
All the Best,