Being prey animals, horses are hard wired for fear. Evolution has favored the horse who uses fear to stay out of the way of predators. However, fear in horses has many roots. Some horses were physically, mentally, and emotionally hurt by someone they trusted in the past. This makes a horse fear and not trust you. A horse can be afraid because you are afraid. New shapes, environments, and sounds are frightening to a horse. Horses that are in a great deal of pain can still perform many complex behaviors, yet a horse that is afraid can only run or fight.
We can help our horses deal with their fears by exposing them to new stimuli in a non-threatening way and by calming ourselves (see ‘calm’ page). This is a partnership between horse and handler helping one another face fear.
Fear to Yielding: It is important to respond to a horse’s fear-based behavior with yielding. Hitting a horse and making it more afraid because it is afraid and acting on that fear is self-defeating. Fighting a horse who is biting or kicking or trying to pull out of your hand is futile. You will lose that fight and get hurt in the process. We hit our horses when we are afraid or wanting to retaliate. Yielding to the fear and the fear created behavior results in a return to calmness for our horses and ourselves. Yielding to fear teaches our frightened horses how to yield, how to yield to us.