With Halloween just around the corner we thought it was the perfect opportunity to look at why horses get spooked. Even when there’s not a ghost or ghoul in sight, horses can become fearful and riders need to understand how to manage those fears in an effective way.
Some horses have a naturally nervous disposition or can struggle with a particular phobia and need more encouragement to stay calm. It’s important to remember that these obstacles can be overcome.
It’s unlikely to be a blood-sucking vampire or werewolf that makes your horse nervous. In fact, horses are often more logical than their riders and their fears will usually be because they perceive danger – for example, a loud bang or an unrecognisable object. Horses will bolt or rear-up as a defence mechanism. This natural instinct could keep them alive in the wild, however it’s important that you don’t have to worry that they will be spooked by every little thing – putting you and your horse in potential danger.
Here are our top tips for managing your horse’s fears:
- Keep calm and carry on
Understanding how your horse feels can help you to predict their behaviour and alert you to any nervousness. A calm and relaxed horse will have a level head, even breathing, no tension in their flanks or neck and soft eyes. Ensure you also remain calm, but alert and watchful for changes that suggest your horse is becoming stressed and likely to get spooked.
- Watch out for ‘seasonal stressors’
With bonfire night and the festive season already on the horizon, now is the time to think about how these events could cause unnecessary stress. Fireworks are the main offender, as loud noises and bright lights can be very worrying for your horse. However, there are some simple tricks to ensure your horse feels comfortable. Leave a radio on to block out loud, sudden noises and leave some lights on to stop flashing fireworks scaring them. Stable toys can also be great for providing a distraction.
- Everyday spooks
Some horses can be scared of everyday objects or even other animals. In this instance there is no quick fix and you may need to be patient in your approach. Encouraging your horse to get used to the ‘scary’ object can be one way to help them overcome their fear. To give them confidence, you could take another horse to lead on a route that includes the object or animal that makes them nervous. Or, encourage your horse to approach what causes the fear slowly, allowing them to back away if they choose to. Simply being near the perceived ‘danger’ can be enough, and you could always try sharing a carrot or apple, or singing a song to keep them calm and relaxed.
- Take time to overcome their fears
Horses, just like riders, can get over their fears and learn to be brave in the face of danger. They need a strong, confident rider to lead them but this doesn’t mean yelling, jerking the reins or forcing them to confront their fears head on. Your horse needs to build up trust and have confidence to follow you. Don’t rush, it will take time to help your horse overcome their fears, but by slowly introducing things that are scary they will eventually get used to them and over time they will become confident and relaxed.