Making Sense of Horse Fear

I’ll be honest; I have a fear of horses. 

It’s not that I’m petrified with fear of horses, so I don’t think it’s a full-blown case of Hippophobia. That’s the medical term for a fear of horses. But they do make me nervous.

It goes back to when I was around nine-years-old. I was attending a weekend camp with my Cub Scout troop. Horseback riding was one of the activities offered. I guess my horse was hungry because at several points along the trail ride, my horse walked off the trail and started to eat. The guide told me to pull up on the reins, tell the horse “come on”, and use both legs to nudge the horse in its side. It worked twice.

However the third time, the horse flipped me off. I remember coming to with all of my friends, my uncle who had taken me to the camp, and the trail guides looking down at me. I got back on the horse and was scared to death until we returned to the corral. I’ve never gotten on a horse again.

I guess I'll try to ride again at some point. It’s on my list of things I “need to do and experience.” It has also bothered me that my only attempt at riding was such as disaster. Lauren Kahn, the owner of Eagle Bear Farm and the horse trainer I interviewed for the NC Science Now story Horse Sense, offered to help me. She said the only two things horses are afraid of are things that move and things that do not move. In other words, don’t do any fast movements around a horse. On the other hand, don’t stand there and make no movement and then expect the horse to be friendly.

I’ve got to admit, it does make sense. The horse is a reflection of you and it gives back what it gets. The horse is always watching and learning so if it sees and senses you are uncomfortable, the horse will reflect that. The horse has more confidence in you if it sees you (and you act) as a leader. Conversely, if the horse sees you as a leader, it makes sense that you will have more confidence as well. And when it is all put together, you and the horse will both have more confidence in each other.

Lauren also explained how horses need to hear and see calm, focused, good direction. Apparently, they are creatures of habit as well. Horses are more comfortable when they are in a routine. It’s best if they know what is going to happen before it actually happens.

In some ways, horses are a lot like us. I’ll keep telling myself that as I head out to the farm!

- Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!

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