FAQ Riding

How do I kick my fear of horses?

Written by Horse Rookie

Getting past a deep fear of horses can take a while, but it’s not impossible.

Whether you’re scared because you’ve had a bad experience with horses in the past, or their sheer size intimidates you, work through your fears in a way that systematically helps you to overcome them. If you’re looking for information on the subject because someone you know is very afraid, you’ll also find our tips helpful so you can guide them safely.

Gradual desensitization is the best way to overcome a deep-rooted fear of horses. By starting with small, low-risk encounters and building on your success, you can become more at ease step-by-step:

  • Get familiar with horses — without being around any
  • Watch horses from a comfortable distance
  • Get closer and touch a friendly horse

We’ll start with the baby steps, and move on from there. This approach assumes that you’re afraid of even being near a horse, so it will begin with some very abstract ideas of horses and move towards real ones. Feel free to skip ahead to the point you’re comfortable with.

Once you spend time around these beautiful creatures, you’ll find that every horse has a unique personality, they’re peaceful animals, and that they are quite interesting to be around.


Get familiar with the idea of horses (without being around any)

For someone who experiences a strong fear reaction to horses, or equinophobia, it’s important to start with small, gentle exposures.

Try looking at calming photos or videos of horses on the internet, or read a fun book about them.

You can watch short videos of horses doing peaceful things like eating, walking or grazing. While there are plenty of movies that show animated horses, and aren’t as realistic.

Once you’ve watched or listened to a few pieces of media successfully, try something that makes you feel a little uncomfortable, and keep at it until you find you are feeling less anxious. Below is a calming hour and a half audio clip of horses walking.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9CL6ce5Xko] 

For younger folks, a stuffed horse toy or some coloring books can help to gradually increase their exposure to the idea of horses without fear.

At this stage, you might realize that only some kinds or colors of horses scare you. Use these insights to help you move forward.

A common question is “Can horses sense fear and anxiety?” You may be surprised by the answer!

Watch horses from a comfortable distance

When you’re ready to deal with a real horse, find a time and place where you can observe one from a distance that feels safe to you.


Watching horses from afar is very safe.

A field where horses are grazing is a great start. You can stay on one side of the fence and watch them peacefully grazing and walking around. Try to pay attention to how you’re feeling while you’re doing this.

Remember to keep breathing deeply and regularly, and try to detach a little bit from your fear.

Look at the different colors of each horse, listen to them nibbling at the grass, and notice how they walk and swish their tails in the breeze.

Get closer and touch a friendly horse

If you know someone with a calm horse, ask if they can hold him or her while you gently touch it. Patting it softly on the shoulder is a good place to start.

They might be a little curious and want to sniff you–this is natural and not a threat.

Make sure the person holding the horse knows that you are working through some fear and anxiety.

Don’t be afraid to back up and calm down for a moment, if you need to.

If you continue to feel comfortable, you might ask if you can try brushing the horse. It’s a nice way to make both of you feel relaxed!

Remember, if you become too anxious, it’s always okay to go back to a lower level of exposure and try again. The good news is, desensitization is a proven way to get past fears, and you’re likely to become much braver than you ever thought!

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About the author

Horse Rookie

I began riding horses at age six, and I'm just as infatuated (OK, more!) with the sport decades later. My AQHA gelding exemplifies the versatility of the breed -- reined cow horse, reining, roping, ranch riding, trail, dressage, and jumping. We're also dipping our toes (hooves) into Working Equitation!