How to Approach a Nervous Horse

A horse can be nervous for many reasons -- perhaps he's in a new environment that's making him uneasy, or he's just having a bad day. He may have been abused when he was younger, which can lead to a permanent uneasiness around people, can cause a horse to be head-shy, or any number of other issues. However, by watching the horse's body language and keeping a calm demeanor, you can easily approach a nervous horse without either of you being hurt.


  1. Image titled Approach a Nervous Horse Step 1
    Approach the horse confidently, but not threateningly. If it is outside and tied up, approach it from an angle, where he can see you (horses have a blind spot right between their eyes). In a stable, let it see you before you enter. Walk with a confident posture, and look at the horse, but don't stare him down. If he tosses his head, puts his ears back, or shows some other indication of fear or anger, step back, but not in a cowardly way - you want the horse to get the idea that you're respecting him, but not afraid of him.
  2. Image titled Approach a Nervous Horse Step 2
    Talk calmly and quietly. The last thing a nervous horse wants is someone loud and intimidating. Horses don't understand words, but they do hear tones of voice, so mumbling about your day or saying nice things in a calm, soothing voice should help calm the horse.
  3. Image titled Approach a Nervous Horse Step 3
    Hold out your hand before you pat or stroke him. Let him sniff your hand, and don't touch him until you see him visibly relax. If he shies away, take a couple of steps back to let him calm down, then try again.
  4. Image titled Approach a Nervous Horse Step 4
    If and when you do get to stroke him, do it very gently (but not so you tickle him) and talk to him quietly. Touch him first on his neck or shoulder, as he may move away or try to nibble if you touch the end of his nose. Reassure him.
  5. Image titled Approach a Nervous Horse Step 5
    Proceed with whatever you planned to do in the first place, once the horse is calm. If at any time during this, he becomes nervous again, repeat the earlier steps, and don't lose your confidence or calm attitude.


  • Most horses consider grooming to be very soothing, so once you get him calmed down enough to start tacking him up or turn him out, give him a nice long grooming first.
  • Bring him a treat.
  • Make sure you stay confident, and not nervous. He'll be able to sense it if you are and it will make him nervous too.
  • Understand the horse's body language. This will help you tell how nervous he is, and when he's calming down. Below are some general things to look for.
    • Pawing with front feet: "I want to get out of here" or "I have a bellyache"
    • Ears tilted forward, head reaching toward you: "Hi, pal"
    • Ears pinned back flat against the head: "I'm getting ready to bite, buck, or kick"
    • Ears forward, head high: "I wonder what that is"
    • Ears pinned back, head reaching toward you: "Stay back" or "I'll bite you"
    • Ears back when you're riding: "I'm listening to you"
    • Lifting or stomping hind leg (not at flies): "I might kick you"
    • Swishing tail (not at flies): "I'm irritated" or "My stomach hurts"
    • Swinging hindquarters toward you: "I'm afraid" or" I don't respect you" or "I'm about to kick you"
    • Kicking at stomach (not at flies): "I've got colic!" or "My stomach hurts."


  • There's nervous, and then there's downright dangerous. If the horse you want to approach is trying to kick his stall door down, or is otherwise having a major fit that could be dangerous, don't try to approach him. If you need a guide for this, you're probably not experienced enough to handle this horse. Go get an instructor to help you.
  • If it is a young horse, make sure you have an experienced person with you for the first meeting.
  • If you are going to feed him treats, make sure he won't try to nip you.

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Categories: Horses