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Dear Dana: How can I help my horse
be less scared of other horses?

By DANA HOKANA / Horsetrader columnist - April 14th, 2010 - Q&A Dear Dana

DEAR DANA: My mare is 5 years old. I was told that before I bought her she had been “beaten up” by other horses. Now I am trying to do drill with her, but she flinches and tries to get away as quickly as possible when another horse comes near her. She is so scared of other horses, even if they just look at her with their ears pinned or swish their tail. How can I break her of this? She is fine on trail rides, just as long as another horse does not turn their behind toward her.
–Rachel Pritchett, Brentwood, Calif.

DEAR RACHEL: In the past, I’ve trained horses with the same problem, and I was able to get them “over it” enough to become show horses. Some of them overcame it completely, while some stayed a little apprehensive of other horses — especially if those other horses were swishing their tail or moving fast around my horse. The mare was probably the bottom of the pecking order in the pasture, and those horses can be a little more timid or sensitive. But even though we didn’t reach perfection, the horses were greatly improved.

What I did to help my horse overcome her fear was to build positive experiences around other horses. Since I have access to other horses, I am able to do this, but you may have to enlist other people and their horses. With time and patience, you can help her through this.

First, pony her off of other horses. I would pick a safe, quiet horse that I knew would not kick or frighten her. Start at the walk, stopping often to pet her on the face, neck, and shoulders.

Every time I pulled her toward me on the other horse, she would be afraid, but I would pat her and talk to her. She gradually became willing and happy to walk up to me sitting on a horse because each time the experience ended positively.

This is one of the keys to overcoming her fear. Build each negative experience into a positive one and don’t quit until you have some improvement. I had one mare that was so afraid that it took me hours the first time I did this exercise — but I was patient and I kept at it. I also talked to her often while I was ponying her, as the human voice can be a soothing reward to horses.

The next step is to ride her and pony other horses off of her. You’ll need to make sure the mare doesn’t kick at the other horses, of course. In fact, use discretion here — if she is aggressive and prone to kick, you may skip this exercise altogether. Also, control or limit the horses touching noses or one another. This will reduce the amount that they “argue,” so to speak, and kick out at one another. That could turn your forward progress backward quickly! Also, remember that when you turn her nose or face toward the horse, then her hindquarters move away, so by controlling her front end, you control her hindquarters!

Next, sit on the mare and have people ride around and up to you, then pet her and talk her from their horse. This really helps a lot because she starts out afraid of a horse approaching her, but ends positively by getting petted and talked to! In my training, I would also tie her in my arena and ride up to and around her, cautiously. If the mare gets afraid or pulls back, it could make it worse.

I would also get people to ride next to me and also with me. I also found it helpful to take the horse to a lot of shows to ride around crowds of horses.

One thing to be mindful of is this: Don’t put her in a situation that would leave her more fearful. At the shows, I would ride defensively, and if some of the other horses looked out of control, I would keep her away from that horse. I would do nothing to make it worse, if possible!

Good Luck, and with time and patience and positive exposure to other horses, you can improve her!

Dana

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