Desensitizing Your Horse To Common Fears

Whether you’re a horse owner or a rider, sooner or later your horse is going to have a fear. Some horses are naturally skittish and nervous, but most of us can relate to the feeling of being afraid at some point in our lives. 

When it comes to horses, though, there’s no need for that fear to get in the way of their ability to be happy and healthy. In fact, desensitizing your horse from their fears can be much easier than you think! 

Here are some ways I’ve found help me deal with my own fears—and even teach my own animals how to cope with theirs:

Desensitizing for a Calm Horse | NERVOUS TO RELAXED
Key Takeaways
– Desensitizing your horse is a key component of training that can help prevent dangerous behavior.
– Exposing your horse to various stimuli in a controlled environment can help them become less reactive in future situations.
– Techniques such as habituation, counter-conditioning, and systematic desensitization can be used to desensitize your horse.
– Desensitizing your horse takes time and patience, and individual results will vary.
– Along with desensitizing, proper hoof care, regular vet check-ups, and safety equipment are all important aspects of overall horse care and safety.

Be Patient

The most important thing to remember when desensitizing your horse is to be patient. You can’t rush the process and expect it to work, so don’t try!

If you go too fast and try to do too much at once, your horse will become overwhelmed by the new experiences and may even shut down completely. 

This could mean that you have lost any progress you made up until that point; therefore, it’s crucial for you not only as an owner but also as a rider (if applicable) that this process be done correctly and consistently so as not only make sure nothing gets screwed up but also because it will save both parties time in the long run if they don’t have any setbacks along the way.

With proper hoof care, you can ensure that your horse remains in top condition. Learn more about keeping your horse’s feet in top shape with our comprehensive guide.

Be Safe

As you work to desensitize your horse to common fears, it’s important to remember that safety should always be your first priority. You don’t want anything bad happening as a result of your efforts.

Here are some tips for staying safe:

Be aware of your surroundings. If there are any dangerous situations nearby (like traffic or other animals), avoid them until you know that everything is fine with the horse in question.

Have an escape plan ready in case things go south quickly with the animal. You’ll want something that allows both people and animals to get away safely if necessary–this could include getting into a vehicle or running away from danger at full speed!

Prioritizing Safety When Desensitizing Your Horse

Use protective equipment like a riding helmet and sturdy bootsWear loose clothing or sandals while working with your horse
Use a lead rope long enough to keep you a safe distance from your horseUse a lead rope that’s too short, putting you in close proximity to your horse’s potentially dangerous reactions
Train your horse in a safe, enclosed areaTrain your horse in an open area where there’s a chance he could bolt or injure himself
Use a trainer or experienced helper for challenging exercisesAttempt difficult exercises without experienced assistance
Start with basic training exercises before moving on to advanced trainingBegin with complex and advanced training before mastering the basics
Stop training if you or your horse become overly anxious or stressedPush through stress or anxiety, placing you and your horse in danger

Remember, working with your horse while keeping safety in mind can help prevent accidents and injuries. Always make sure to use proper equipment and techniques while remaining alert to your horse’s behavior when desensitizing.

Be Consistent

The most important thing you can do is be consistent with your training. This means:

Consistency in the environment and equipment used for training. You don’t want to be working in one place, then switching to another because it’s easier to get your horse there. 

And don’t change up what you’re using during training–he needs to know that any object he comes across will always have the same effect on him (in this case, no reaction at all).

Consistency with your horse’s behavior. If he knows what’s expected of him and responds well when asked, then keep doing what works! 

But if something isn’t working out as planned or if there are problems along the way, make sure you stick with them until they’re resolved before trying something new again later down the road when things have improved enough so that both human(s) and equine partner(s) are ready again.”

Colic is a common and potentially dangerous disorder in horses, but it is preventable. Check out our guide on understanding and preventing equine colic to learn more about how you can safeguard your horse’s health.

Be Calm

Don’t let your horse see you get nervous or anxious, and don’t let him see that he has made you nervous or anxious. 

If he sees that he has upset you, it will only make things worse for both of you! It’s okay to be excited about the prospect of working with him on his fears, but make sure that excitement doesn’t show in your behavior–keep calm and relaxed at all times when dealing with these situations.

Be patient; do not rush into things too quickly if they aren’t ready yet (and if they ever will be).

Maintaining Calmness when Working with Your Horse

Speak in a calm, soothing toneYell or use forceful language
Gradually introduce new stimuliOverwhelm your horse with too much stimulation
Use positive reinforcementUse overly harsh or negative reinforcement
Take deep, slow breathsHold your breath or hyperventilate
Use calming aids such as lavender oil or calming supplementsUse sedatives or tranquilizers without consulting a veterinarian
Use relaxation techniques such as massage or stretchingJerk or tug on the reins or use excessive pressure

Remember, staying calm and relaxed while working with your horse is key to helping him feel safe and secure. By maintaining a calm and reassuring demeanor, you can help your horse become less reactive to new and potentially frightening stimuli.

Be Sure

You should never be afraid to ask for help. If you’re thinking of doing something that might be dangerous or uncomfortable for your horse, find someone who has more experience with the task and ask them for advice.

You should also not be afraid to let your horse know that he’s in control and you aren’t going anywhere until he is ready. 

If a situation becomes too much for him, such as being tied up at a crossroads or having strangers approach him from behind (which would cause him fear), then back out of it slowly and make sure he knows what’s going on so he can relax again before trying again later when his anxiety level isn’t so high.

Lunging is a valuable technique for reducing fear and correcting behavior in horses. Our guide on lunging techniques for improving horse behavior provides helpful insights for any horse owner seeking to improve their horse’s behavior.

Be Quiet

You may be surprised to learn that the voice of authority isn’t always the loudest one. Horses are extremely sensitive to sound, and they can pick up on our emotions through our voices. 

If you’re feeling nervous or tense, it will come through in your tone and volume of speech–and that’s not how we want our horses reacting! 

Remember: if you’re going to use your voice at all while working with a horse, keep it calm and soothing (or at least quiet).

Speak in a low, soothing tone to help calm your horseSpeak loudly or rapidly, which can agitate or confuse your horse
Use a consistent tone and volume of voiceUse a high-pitched or angry tone of voice
Praise your horse for good behavior with a quiet “good boy/girl”Use “good boy/girl” or any word of praise too loudly, which may frighten your horse
Use verbal cues sparingly and only when necessaryRepeatedly use verbal cues, which can overstimulate and confuse your horse
Listen to your horse’s response to your voice and adjust accordinglyDisregard your horse’s response to your voice, which can contribute to mistrust and uncertainty

Remember, keeping your voice calm and gentle is key to building trust with your horse and fostering a positive training environment. Through patience and consistency, you can help your horse feel comfortable and confident while learning new behaviors.

Be A Leader

Be a leader, not a follower.

Be confident in your actions, and don’t be afraid to take the lead!

Calmly assert yourself, even if it means standing up for yourself when others are trying to push you around.

Make sure you know what it is that YOU want out of this situation before approaching it with your horse–and then stick to it! 

Consistency is key here; if you keep switching things up on him/her too often or giving mixed messages (like being calm one minute, but nervous another), then they won’t know how best to react when faced with something scary or new.

Patience is also key: remember that horses have been around since prehistoric times; they’ve had plenty of time to develop their own instincts about how best avoid danger… so give yours some space while he/she figures things out too!

Staying safe while horseback riding is of utmost importance, and having the right equipment is essential. Visit our article on the top 15 pieces of safety equipment every rider needs to learn about the gear that every rider should consider investing in

Be Happy And Positive, And Ask Your Horse To Be The Same

If you’re nervous or scared, your horse will pick up on it and become more afraid. If you are calm and happy, they will be calm and happy!

If you want your horse to be less fearful of something in particular, make sure that when he sees it (or hears its sound), he knows that it’s okay. 

You’ll need some sort of signal for this–a clicker works well–and then reward him every time he looks at or approaches the thing without being scared. 

If there’s no way around using treats as rewards (like if they’re afraid of traffic), make sure not only that the treat is small but also that there aren’t any other distractions around while giving them out so as not to confuse them with other things happening around them during their training sessions.

Dressage is a discipline that takes great skill and practice to master. Are you interested in learning more? Check out our basic guide on Dressage 101: Understanding the Basics to learn more about the fundamentals of dressage riding.


Now, you may be wondering why I’ve spent so much time talking about fear. Fear is a big deal in horses, and it’s something that we need to understand if we want to help them feel safer in their world. 

We can’t just ignore it or pretend it doesn’t exist! I hope this article has given you some ideas on how best to approach your horse if he seems nervous about something new–and remember: always keep safety first when working with him. 

If he seems scared but still willing to try something new out (or maybe even excited!), then go ahead and give it a shot!

Further Reading

If you’re interested in learning more about desensitizing your horse, check out the following resources:

Bombproof and Desensitize a Horse: Ultimate Guide: This guide covers everything from desensitizing techniques to specific exercises you can use to help your horse become bombproof.

Desensitize Your Horse to Common Encounters: Learn how to desensitize your horse to common encounters, including trail obstacles, loud noises, and other potentially frightening stimuli.

Desensitizing: The Methods: This article covers various methods for desensitizing your horse, including habituation, flooding, counter-conditioning, and more.


What does it mean to desensitize a horse?

Desensitizing a horse means exposing them to various stimuli in a controlled environment to help them become less reactive to those stimuli in the future.

Why is it important to desensitize your horse?

Desensitizing your horse can help prevent spooking, bolting, and other potentially dangerous behaviors, making them safer to handle and ride.

What are some common fears that horses have?

Horses can be afraid of a wide range of things, including loud noises, strange objects, water, and other animals.

What are some techniques for desensitizing a horse?

There are several techniques you can use to desensitize your horse, including habituation, counter-conditioning, flooding, and systematic desensitization.

How long does it take to desensitize a horse?

The amount of time it takes to properly desensitize a horse will depend on the horse’s individual temperament, the specific stimuli being desensitized, and the desensitization techniques being used. It can take anywhere from a few days to several months to fully desensitize a horse.