I know everyone has heard someone say,
“Don’t let that horse know you are afraid.”
Why do people say that?
So many people think that if a horse can sense your fear they will take advantage of you, or even act up and be bad for the rider.
With October Spooktacular month being all about fear, and overcoming fear, I felt this was a very important insight to share with everyone.
The idea behind not showing a horse you are feeling fear has some validity, but lets go in depth a little more to understand the true reasoning behind this statement.
For a lot of people, that statement is made so that a fearful rider is not taken advantage of or a horse does not act up. You have to let them know you are confident and don’t let them see you are afraid.
Why is this so important?
Starting at the very basic concepts, a horse is a prey animal. They survive by reading body language from yards and even miles away. They can pick up on the intention as well in the predator animal.
I have used the water hole example A LOT in my programs, so please excuse me if you have already heard or read this example. A documentary camera crew was out filming wild horse herds, and one day they were filming the herd down at the water hole. A mountain lion came out of the woods and began walking towards the water hole while the herd of wild horses was drinking.
All the horses took notice of the large predator cat, and were on alert, ready to run if needed. Yet, they did not scatter. They continued to drink, though with one eye and ear held on the big cat. The cat drank and both the wild horses and the large cat took off in different directions. The wild horses knew the cat was not hungry and hunting, but coming to drink.
The same group of wild horses were back at the same water hole weeks later, and a large mountain lion slowly crept out of the woods at the far side of the water hole. All the horses raised their heads, snorted and turned and ran, with the mountain lion giving chase. That day the horses knew, as the cat exited the woods, that it was hungry and hunting.
How could the horses know the difference from one day to the next on the intentions behind the wild cat?
Horses survive by body language and feeling the intention or energy behind that it. The horses could tell in the first encounter that the cat was relaxed in its body, through its motions on how it was moving. The speed at which the cat approached as well as the relaxation through the entire cat. The second encounter the horses could tell immediately by the tension, and way the cat was moving and approaching that the cat was not relaxed, but on full approach.
If horses can sense from a long distance away if a predator is hunting them or just coming out with no intention of hunting then a horse can read our subtle body language as well. (If we are aware or not of our body language.)
Why does it seem like accidents happen or people who are fearful have a harder time working or handling a horse?
There are two parts to this question.
Fear and aggression appear the same in body language and movement to a horse. The tension that we hold in our body and how the muscles respond to that tension are the same in the emotions of fear and the emotions of aggression. How we move, the way our approach and how it looks to a horse are one in the same. A high sensitive horse will show signs of panic and want to leave or escape from a person who shows fear as to them it feels and looks like aggression.
When I am working with clients, the number one rule in the connection program is you can not enter the arena with anger or fear. You work from outside the round pen or arena until you feel the emotion lessen and then you may enter with the horse.
A horse who is in a round pen as an example, when someone enters holding fear or anger in their body, can be met with explosive or fearful behavior. Either way, it can lead to an unsafe situation where a horse is very reactive to either escape or become bigger.
Fear can also lead to very tentative movements and the lack of confidence can make direction from the handler/rider unclear to the horse as to what is being asked. Some people call this taking advantage of the person, but to me, the majority of the time it is lack of clarity in what they are asking of the horse that leads the horse to confusion and not doing what it is perhaps the person wants them to do.
For example, I had this actually happen yesterday with one of my clients. She was afraid of the horse, not to the point she was exhibiting threatening energy, but she was afraid of the horse, and so it showed in her lack of confidence. She was leading the horse from the wash rack area into the arena. As they began to walk, she kept trying to get farther away from the horse as she was afraid the horse would step on her or bite her. The more she walked farther left to get a farther distance from the horse, the more the horse drifted left to stay next to her.
The horse did not stay on its straight line path to the arena, for the person was unintentionally asking the horse to turn left. Pretty soon they were about 15 feet left of the gate when they reached the arena. They stopped and stood there for a moment, before she asked for help on how to get the horse to the right and in the gate. Using her right hand to push the horse away from her and move to the right was hard, as she was afraid to get that close to the horses head.
There is nothing wrong with fear!!!
It is not a bad emotion, it is just making us aware of something we feel for us.
A lot of times, fear is a lack of confidence, as well as a lack of understanding or practice.
Understanding how to move with a horse, work with a horse and handle a horse is what builds confidence. With confidence you work through and help to dissipate fear.
Ask for help when you need help!