How do we figure out what it is our horses are scared of, when they start to react with fear and that flight or fight instinct kicks in.

First of all, we need to recognise the common causes of fear to help us understand why our horses react the way they do.

This will provide us with a platform, to be able to figure out exactly what it is we need to change or solve to encourage a happier, more confident horse.

To make it easier to digest, I have condensed the most common causes of fear under the following headings:


This could be from many causes, to name just a few, ill fitting tack, mouth problems, medical issues such as stomach ulcers or kissing spines, muscle fatigue or possibly even pain caused unknowingly by the rider or handler.

Remember, if your horse feels pain he is not going to want to hang around, he is going to try his best to remove whatever it is that is hurting and next time he thinks the same thing is going to happen again he will probably show you a reaction, this could be anything from a small movement away, to trying to bite or a snatch at the reins to a full blown buck.

In a way this is good because it helps us to figure out what it is that’s causing the pain or discomfort, but sadly, all too often these reactions from the horse are either not seen, ignored or punished for what is commonly labeled as aggressive or bad behaviour.


Tor instance, caused under saddle, perhaps by unclear aids or by the rider bombarding the horse with too many requests at once. It could also happen when the horse is asked to do something new but does not fully understand what’s expected of them.

Remember, when a horse is confused they are going to feel insecure. Insecurity creates fear, hence the horse is going to get very stressed and probably react.

Past History or Trauma

For example, from a fall or an accident of some kind. From bad or aggressive handling or riding. Or may be even from neglect or abuse.

Note: If the horse has suffered a bad experience, he may well remember this if he is faced with a similar situation again, possibly causing him to replay the fear he previously felt. This can take a lot of time and patience to overcome.

Trust Issues

This may be between horse and rider, for example, if the rider does not fully trust the horse they may start to ride with a degree of fear, which then transcends to the horse and often causes a fear reaction. It’s not just trust between horse and rider though, it may be a lack of trust in their surroundings or even the situation their faced with, perhaps being asked to load into a trailer instead of a horse box for example. Again this lack of trust can lead to insecurity, which in turn can lead to fear.

Remember horses will always react to how they feel, if something doesn’t feel right they are going to tell you. Try to be open to reading and noticing the subtle signs your horse may use to try to tell you something is wrong, so they don’t have to react bigger and bigger each time to try to get your attention and recognition that something needs to change.

Understanding fear in my horse – Part 2