wikiHow to Gain the Trust of a Recently Abused Horse

Three Parts:Learning About Your Abused HorseGaining the Trust of Your Recently Abused HorseEstablishing Your Leadership With Your Horse

Adopting a recently abused horse can be a very rewarding experience. It gives the horse a new home and a caring owner, and you get the chance to bond with a special horse. Your relationship may even turn into a lifelong friendship. However, because an abused horse may have lost his trust in people, you will need to first take the time to gain his trust and make him feel comfortable and safe with you.

Part 1
Learning About Your Abused Horse

  1. Image titled Gain the Trust of a Recently Abused Horse Step 1
    Learn about passive and active abuse. Before working to gain your abused horse’s trust, it will be important for you to understand what type(s) of abuse he suffered in the past. There are two types of abuse: passive and active. Passive abuse does not involve physical harm. Rather, it is characterized by neglect—lack of food, water, shelter, or veterinary care.[1]
    • Active abuse involves physical harm, such as excessive use of a whip, unreasonably heavy loads, and beatings.[2]
    • The type of abuse may play a role in how long it will take for your horse to trust you. Passive abuse may be easier for your horse to overcome than physical abuse.[3]
  2. Image titled Gain the Trust of a Recently Abused Horse Step 2
    Ask questions about your horse’s past. Learning what type of abuse your horse endured will help you understand what kind of uphill battle you will face to gain his trust. Obtaining more information about his life as a whole will give you an even better idea of how to work with him. For example, you can ask more probing questions about his abuse: When did the abuse start? How long did it last? How severe was it?
    • Consider asking what your horse is afraid of.[4]
    • Ask about his prior veterinary care (e.g., deworming, vaccinations, dental exams).
    • Try to learn more about his temperament: Is he aggressive? Does he startle easily?
    • Finding out whether your horse has worked with an equine behaviorist would be helpful information.
    • There are many questions you could ask the previous owner or rescue group to learn more about your horse. Ask as many questions as you can think of.
  3. Image titled Gain the Trust of a Recently Abused Horse Step 3
    Identify what special needs your abused horse will need. Depending on the nature or severity of your horse’s recent abuse, he may have many special needs. For example, if he suffered from a lack of food and water, he will probably have specific dietary needs to help him put weight back on and correct nutritional deficiencies.[5]
    • If he did not receive consistent veterinary care, he will probably need a number of veterinary services—deworming, vaccinations, dental exam, shoe trimming, etc.[6]
    • Active abuse may have left him with physical injuries requiring veterinary care.
    • Keep in mind that the effects of abuse may not be visible. He may have developed serious behavioral issues, which could necessitate the expertise of an equine behaviorist.[7]
    • Consult with your veterinarian to determine what special needs will need to be addressed to get your horse back into good shape.[8]
  4. Image titled Gain the Trust of a Recently Abused Horse Step 4
    Become familiar with your abused horse’s other needs. Your recently abused horse will likely be emotionally fragile. Before he can even begin to trust you, he will need to feel emotionally safe and comfortable with you. In addition to this emotional comfort, he will need to regain a sense of companionship and routine.
    • These needs are just as important as his more basic needs (e.g., food, water, shelter).
    • Training exercises and quality time with your horse will help you address these needs.

Part 2
Gaining the Trust of Your Recently Abused Horse

  1. Image titled Gain the Trust of a Recently Abused Horse Step 5
    Learn your horse’s body language. Being able to read your horse’s body language will allow to you communicate with him more effectively, which will in turn help you gain his trust. Your abused horse may demonstrate certain body language as a result of the abuse (e.g., trembling, tense muscles). The more you understand how he is feeling at any given moment, the better you will be able to address his abuse.
    • Trembling is very common in abused horses. Your horse may begin to tremble and shake as you approach him, out of fear that you will hurt him.[9]
    • A trembling horse may be signaling that he is ready to bolt. Be prepared to quickly move to safety if your horse begins to tremble.[10]
    • An abused horse may also tense his muscles in response to being touched or approached.[11]
    • Physical abuse may have caused your horse to exhibit aggressive body language, such as striking with a front leg, swinging his hindquarters, and pinning back his ears.[12] For your own safety, do not attempt to approach or work with your horse if he is being aggressive.
    • Talk with your veterinarian or equine behaviorist if you are unsure how to read your horse’s body language.
  2. Image titled Gain the Trust of a Recently Abused Horse Step 6
    Learn the proper way to approach your horse. How you approach your abused horse is an important factor in whether you will gain his trust. Slow and easy movements are a must.[13] In addition, you should approach him from his side, not directly in front of him.[14]
    • Approaching him from his front may look threatening to him, which may make him wary or afraid of you.
    • Your body language (relaxed breathing, slow walk) should communicate that you are calm, confident and aware of your surroundings.[15]
    • Do not make direct eye contact with your horse as you approach him.[16]
    • Wait a short distance away from your horse before approaching him. This will allow you to observe his body language and determine if he is ready for you to be in his personal space.[17] If he looks relatively calm (e.g., ears turned to the side, lowered head, cocked hind leg),[18] proceed with walking towards his side.
    • Body language that signals fear or anxiety (e.g., ears cocked back, pawing at the ground, tightened facial muscles),[19] indicates that your horse may not want to be approached.
    • Consider the ‘advance and retreat’ method. Approach his side for a few seconds, then back away. Approach again, scratch his shoulder or withers, then back away again. Your horse will not only feel safe around you when you do this (predators don’t advance and retreat), but he will also be curious about you.[20]
  3. Image titled Gain the Trust of a Recently Abused Horse Step 7
    Touch your horse. Your abused horse may be averse to being touched—he may equate this to physical pain and punishment. For this reason, you should be extremely careful with how and where you touch him. Begin by gently scratching his chest, shoulder, or withers.[21]
    • Watch your horse’s body language as you touch him. An abused horse may be especially skittish and prone to making sudden movements. Staying aware of his body language will help you move out of the way quickly if you sense his fear and anxiety.
    • As he becomes more comfortable with you, try touching him in different areas of his body, such as his neck and legs.[22]
    • Avoid touching his face or head.[23] Horses don’t particularly care for their noses being touched.[24]
    • Do not be overly affectionate with your horse.[25] Not only may he not be ready for it, but horses in general are not overly affectionate with each other.
  4. Image titled Gain the Trust of a Recently Abused Horse Step 8
    Talk to your horse. How you talk to your abused horse also plays a role in whether he will trust you. His previous owners may have constantly yelled at him, or avoided talking to him at all. Talking to your horse in a soothing and reassuring voice will go a long way towards gaining his trust.
    • Do not ever raise your voice with him.[26]
    • Spend time talking with him for at least a few minutes each day.[27]
    • Of course, what you talk about is not important—the more you talk to your horse, the more he will recognize your voice and feel safe around you.

Part 3
Establishing Your Leadership With Your Horse

  1. Image titled Gain the Trust of a Recently Abused Horse Step 9
    Teach your horse to yield to pressure. In the wild, a pack of horses will have a leader that all other horses will follow. In order for your abused horse to trust you, he will need to see you as his leader who will protect and care for him.[28] Teaching your horse to yield to direct and indirect pressure is a great way to establish that your leadership.
    • With direct pressure, you will gently press your hand against your horse’s body until he moves away. Release the pressure immediately after he moves away.[29]
    • For indirect pressure, you will attach a lead rope to your horse’s halter. Standing a few feet in front of him, point your index finger and wiggle the rope. Continue pointing and wiggling the rope until he begins to move back, then release the pressure.[30]
    • Do not be surprised if your horse does not learn to yield to pressure right away. Be patient with him and talk to him in a reassuring voice. Eventually, he will learn how to respond correctly to pressure.
    • Start with as little pressure as possible, then gradually increase the pressure with each practice session.
    • Keep in mind that abused horses may be either hypersensitive to pressure or desensitized to it.
  2. Image titled Gain the Trust of a Recently Abused Horse Step 10
    Lead your horse. Leading your horse is another good way to establish that you are your horse’s leader. This type of training will teach your horse to respect your personal space and will help him trust and bond with you.[31]
    • Leading your horse from the partner position is the safest and most preferable way to lead your horse. You can stand next to either of your horse’s shoulders, but it is customary to lead from a horse’s left shoulder.[32]
    • It may be helpful to hold your elbow out—this will lessen the chance of your horse knocking you over if he starts to get too close to you.[33]
    • Be sure to coil the excess lead rope in your hand.[34]Do not wrap it around your hand or wrist. You may get dragged and seriously injured if he bolts and you are unable to free yourself from the lead rope.
    • Leading your horse from his front (lead position) or back (drive position) is not recommended.[35]
  3. Image titled Gain the Trust of a Recently Abused Horse Step 11
    Be consistent. Establishing leadership with your horse will take consistent, daily practice. Because of the abuse he suffered, your horse may take a long time to accept your leadership and trust you. Do not become discouraged, though. The more consistent you are with your training, the more your horse will trust you and feel safe with you.
    • Routines are very important to horses.
    • Consistency also applies to other ways of interacting with your horse, including grooming him and feeding him.


  • Overall, there are five intangible items that your horse will need from you to gain his trust: kindness, compassion, patience, leadership, and respect.[36]
  • Use a breakaway halter on your horse if he is aggressive.[37]
  • Consult your veterinarian or an equine behaviorist if your horse’s recent abuse is beyond what you feel you can handle on your own.
  • Horses are very attuned to the feelings of other people and horses. You may unintentionally create more stress for your horse if you feel afraid or anxious around him. Maintain an air of confidence and relaxation with your horse.


  • Remain alert at all times when you are around your horse.[38] His previous abuse may cause him to react unpredictably and dangerously.

Sources and Citations

Show more... (35)

Article Info

Featured Article

Categories: Featured Articles | Communicating With Your Horse | Horse Care