The Physiology of Fear

Fear is a factor in daily life for both the horse and the rider/handler; both horse and rider/handler can conquer it. It has to be done in a manner that both can understand and is best accomplished by the rider/handler taking the initial step and then guiding the horse through the process of calming, then relaxing, and finally through the projection of trust and confidence. I do need to explain that both the horse and the handler can experience fear, but humans have the ability to reason and then to conquer the fear that has become foremost at the time. We do so by analyzing the point that we at first sense the fear and then process the memory of such an item and then determine if it is worth fearing or not. That is how we analyze fear as human beings, now for the horse’s answer ~ I have got to run away! What we need to accomplish is to analyze the fear factor and how both the horse and the rider/handler respond to the fear factor and how it can be controlled.

Most riders that get have problems with a horse over fear compound the problem through the use of their body language to the horse. Let’s say that the horse becomes startled at some object, the horse will stop and take a good hard look at the specific item in question, at this point they are waiting for your guidance. It is in the next few seconds of time and the actions that you do and how that is transferred into body language that will determine how the horse will react to your actions. You have become startled by the sudden stopping of the horse and you are just as unsure as the horse is about the specific item that startled them, you then tense up through most, if not all, of your body, you grab hold of the reins and start to pull back on the bit, your legs clamp around the body of the horse and your mind is racing at the speed of cars running around a NASCAR race track.

Your actions have told the horse the following things to do:

1. Your body tensing up means that you are fearful and that there may be a greater threat than they have found after all you are supposed to be in charge here and if you are ready to run away, the horse will certainly not want to stick around.

2. Your next action was the grabbing of the reins and pulling back on the bit, this lets them know that you are wanting to stop and stop now, no second-guessing here and then with the increased pressure of the bit it becomes painful and the horse now has pain, in addition, to fear to contend with.

3. Once that your legs clamp around the body of the horse it is the same as if someone came up behind you and grabbed you around the waist when you were not expecting it, you go straight into the air and scream, it is no different with the horse except with the inability to process all of this information at one time the horse will revert back to the instinctual thing to do, run away.

It is at this point that you have lost total control of the situation and there is no way to get control, in fact, the horse will now bolt to get out of there so fast that the only concern is their preservation and they feel that they cannot depend on you for guidance at this point so you will most likely end up on the ground and the horse far away from you.

The horse does not need to react this way when it becomes startled by anything. In fact, if you have the trust of the animal and project confidence at the same time the horse will turn to you with all of its ability and ask you what it should do. And it can be handled in the following manner, the same situation only this time we interject a team effort.

The horse has been startled by anything and stops to look at it and then tries to determine what it is. Again it is the first few seconds that are crucial to the total outcome of the potential accident waiting to happen.

1. Once that the horse does stop you will feel the entire body of the horse draw into your seat of the saddle, at this point, it is looking to you for the confidence and the guidance as to what it should to in this situation.

2. You MUST remain calm for the sake of both of you. DO NOT tense up, relax, and remember you are the one that is in charge ~ so act like it.

3. It would be best to give the horse a loser rein at this point and allow them to see that you have no fear of the item they are startled over, let the horse have a minute to realize that the whole situation meant nothing to you and that there was no need to get so upset.

As you learn to be this way, the horse will build the trust and confidence in your abilities and the fear factor will tend to reduce. Now it may be there with other people who have the tendency to do as the first rider did and tense up, but once that you understand that you can control the situation through your body language to the horse, the better the horse will be in situations that need understanding and positive actions.

Next, we must understand that the fear that is in the mind of the rider/handler is one that is transferable to the horse through the use of body language. There are times that the horse shows much more compassion to man than man shows to the horse, there are also times that the horse will not venture into territory that it does know is unsafe, but mankind has to project their ability to reason and venture in and then have to confront the situation that they create.

The rider/handler can learn quite a bit from just watching and noting a horse’s reaction and response to any situation that it does come up against on a daily basis. You can buy all the books you want on the behavior of the horse and you will never learn as much as when you take the time to observe and learn from the horse in their natural settings. Take the time to watch them in the field both alone and within the herd atmosphere. What a horse does on their own is quite a bit different than what a horse will do interacting with other members of their herd.

One other point that needs to be brought out here is reactions that horses have are confused with what we feel they are. Let’s take the example of a horse moving away from you, they can move in one of three ways. First, they might try to walk over the top of you, with no regard for your safety that is because they have no respect for you. Second, they may push away from you, that is a fear reaction and are just trying to get away from the danger. Third, they back away from you and this is bad news for anyone that has built a relationship with a horse since they are taking their trust and the position that you have been granted away from you.

Any thoughts?....

Until next time, “Ride for the Brand”.


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