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Horsemanship Training – Horses’ Fears

By Expert Author: ian kirkham

There are two types of fear a horse can experience: justified and unjustified.


1. Justified Fear: An example of justified fear is when a horse is afraid of trailer loading because at some point he was hurt or had a bad experience inside a trailer or while getting on or off a trailer.


2. Unjustified Fear: An example of an unjustified fear is a horse that is afraid of a tarp even though he has never been hurt by one. Unjustified fears are much harder than justified fears to deal with and they take more time to overcome.


Regardless of what kind of fear a horse has, you must be patient and understanding. Ask yourself if what you are asking of the horse is reasonable. If it is, continue what you are doing, but if you have some doubts, change your lesson plan. The horse will eventually deal with his fear if you continue to present him with chances to overcome it. Here are two exercises that will help you help your horse overcome some of his fears.


Crossing Obstacles—If a horse won’t cross an obstacle (e.g., tarp, bridge, stream), don’t force him. Instead, get him to do things such as walking near the obstacle. Always work the same side of the obstacle. When you take a break, do so close to the obstacle. At some point the horse will realize that the obstacle isn’t going to hurt him. Follow these steps once you are certain the horse will step onto or across the obstacle.

• Pick a starting spot and approach the obstacle slowly.

• Keep working the horse until you are as close to that spot as possible.


• Get the horse thinking about moving forward. Do not allow the horse to paw.

• Do not kick the horse when his head is down; keep his nose pointed in the direction you want him to go.


• Ask him to go forward. Make sure the motivator is stronger than the horse’s resistance.

• Work the horse in a serpentine pattern near the obstacle.


• When you horse faces the obstacle, release the reins. Facing the obstacle becomes the reward.

• Go back to working on things other than crossing the obstacle. Continue working the serpentine pattern near the obstacle.


• The only resting place is near the obstacle. Every time you let him rest, make sure he’s another step closer to the obstacle.


Do not pet or praise your horse if he doesn’t want to go over an obstacle. Do not dismount and lead a frightened horse over an obstacle – he might spook and hurt you.


Sacking Out—“Sacking out” is the process of getting a horse accustomed to and comfortable with being touched, handled and tacked up. Sacking out will help calm an excitable horse. Begin this exercise by deliberately elevating your horse’s emotions, and end by lowering them. Working from the ground with a bridle:

• Take hold of the horse and get him moving around you.

• Vigorously sack out the horse with a saddle blanket. Remember, the goal at this stage is to raise the horse’s emotional level.


• At first the horse will try to avoid the blanket, but soon he’ll relax.

• Do this lesson on both sides of the horse. If the horse locks up (refuses to move), put more energy into your work and raise the horse’s emotions.


• Once the horse is moving again, decrease you energy level.


Like people, horses learn to control or overcome their fears at different speeds, so be patient and understanding during these lessons.


Company – LL Inc and the Lyons Legacy School of Horsemanship offer a wide variety of equine educational materials, including a series of horse training and riding courses, manuals, and videos for online and on-the-ground learning.


Contact – Ian Kirkham, LL Inc., ian.kirkham@gmail.com. A biologist with a PhD in animal behaviour, and a writer for much of his career, Ian now focuses on one of his lifelong passions – horses. He’s owned and trained horses in Canada, US, Zimbabwe and Costa Rica. Ian divides his time between training horses and creating educational products for horse lovers.

Author Bio :

A biologist with a PhD in animal behavior, and a writer for much of his career, Ian now focuses on one of his lifelong passions – horses & Horsemanship. He’s owned and trained horses in Canada, US, Zimbabwe and Costa Rica. Ian divides his time between horse training, horse professional trainer and creating educational products for horse lovers.

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