How to Get More Confident Around Horses

Two Parts:Building Your ConfidenceWorking Up to Riding

It's hard to understand how big and powerful the average horse is before you meet one face-to-face. Being around horses can be seriously intimidating for the inexperienced. While it's hard to become 100% confident around horses overnight, a few simple tricks can make it much easier to spend time with the animals and eventually work up to skills like handling and riding.

Part 1
Building Your Confidence

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    Watch horses from afar. Though there are exceptions, most horses are fairly calm and docile when left to themselves. Watching a herd of horses feed in a field a short distance away from you can make them seem much less intimidating than they might otherwise. Once you're comfortable with this, you can gradually start interacting with horses close up.
    • Use this opportunity to observe horse body language. Note the way they move their heads, ears, and rears when they interact with each other. For example, a horse that's upset will often pin its ears back (move them so that they lay flat against its head).
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    Approach horses calmly from an angle. Horses are remarkably good at sensing when people are nervous. If you approach the animal when you are calm, cool, and collected, the horse will probably stay this way too. Make sure a horse can see you coming; they're most comfortable when humans don't take them by surprise. Move towards the horse's front shoulder, staying out of the small blind spot in front of the horse's nose.
    • Use slow but purposeful movements. Try not to hesitate as you approach.
    • If he moves away from you, move with him, continuing toward him. Don't stop until his feet are still.
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    Offer the horse affection. When you reach the horse's shoulder, make sure it can see you, then gently lay one hand on the base of its neck. Offer a few gentle words of greeting and encouragement as you pet it. If the horse moves away, approach its shoulder again and repeat. Eventually, it will learn you are not a threat (and you will learn that it is not a threat!)
    • Pet in the direction of the hair. Going against the grain can be uncomfortable for horses.
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    Groom the horse. Helping an experienced trainer do basic tasks like grooming is a good way to gain respect for the care that goes into raising horses, while also improving your confidence around them. Ask a horse professional for a chance to help with washing, brushing, or another grooming task to build up your confidence.
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    Feed the horse. This is a fun activity that can make the horse feel more at ease around you (and vice versa). While you can buy treats for this, most horses will be just as happy with things like hay, carrots, and apple slices. Offer the horse the treat by holding it away from your body, about a foot or so in front of its nose. If the horse doesn't seem to want it, don't thrust it into her face.
    • Keep your palm flat as you offer the food to the horse. This keeps the horse from biting one of your fingers by accident.
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    Get the horse to respect you by using a lead rope. If you're not familiar with horses, get a professional to help you secure a lead rope to the horse. With a grip on your lead rope (12-15 feet of rope is a good length), take a step away from the horse and look at his hindquarters. Lean in and begin to swing the end of the rope in a circular pattern to tell him you want him to move his hindquarters away from you. Stop the moment he reacts, and turn away with no more threat in your posture. This teaches the horse to submit to your commands, and can help him become more docile around you.
    • If he does not move after a couple of swings of the rope end, swing it so that it hits his hindquarters firmly. Continue repeating this exercise until he respects your requests as soon as you look at his hindquarters and lean in.
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    Stay in a horse's "safe zones." If you're worried about getting hurt by a horse, it's helpful to know that a horse will have a very hard time harming you if you watch where you are. Staying arm's length from the horse's front shoulder is a good general policy. Here, it's difficult for the horse to kick you, rear up, or bite (which, of course, is unlikely anyway).

Part 2
Working Up to Riding

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    Ask to be paired with a beginner-friendly horse. While most horses at training centers that accept beginners will be perfectly safe, the owners may be able to recommend you a horse that is especially calm or docile. This can help you build up your confidence. It's much easier to relax around a horse that you know is very unlikely to cause any trouble.
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    Tack up the horse before you get on. "Tack" is a term used for the equipment used to ride the horse (i.e. saddle, reins, etc.). Learning to put this on is an important horse-riding skill, but it's also a valuable opportunity to gain confidence working closely with a horse.
    • See our tacking guide for specific instructions. Get a professional to help you if it's your first time.
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    Get the horse to submit to your rein commands. This will improve your confidence by helping you feel more in control. Mount the horse and pull one rein to your thigh until his nose touches your leg. The very moment you feel him submit (by taking the pressure off the rein himself), let the rein go slack again. Do this consistently and he will learn to be very flexible to your commands with a very light touch on the rein. Do this on both sides multiple times before you ask him to move forward at a walk.
    • This is practicing your "one rein stop" — basically the emergency brake anytime you get in trouble.
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    Walk before working up to a trot or canter. Once you know you can stop the horse, have a steady walk around and make sure you are comfortable in the saddle. Don't feel pressured to start trotting, cantering, or anything else — just walk as long as necessary to feel completely confident.
    • When you're comfortable walking, work with the trainer or professional to gradually ramp up to a canter or trot. Increasing your speed in stages will help you get accustomed.
    • Practice the one rein stop described above at a walk, then at a trot and canter. You need to practice it as much as he does. It needs to be a reflexive move that you do without thinking as soon as any trouble starts. To learn to think like this, you need to practice it.


  • The first time you ride, have a horse professional help you choose a comfortable saddle. It's a lot easier to relax if you're not in actual discomfort.
  • Stick with it! Don't let one bad experience with a horse put you off forever. Gaining confidence takes time, but with lots of consistent practice, you can open up a whole range of possibilities with this new skill.
  • Never ride alone. If something does go wrong, having a professional nearby will make it much easier not to lose your cool.

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Categories: Horses