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4 Steps for Overcoming Your Horse’s Fear of Other Horses

Does your horse pal feel threatened by other horses in race warm-up arenas? Does it jump to the side when a horse gets too close, or does it threaten to back off – and does it actually succeed, as mine did? Maybe he’s new to performing or feels overwhelmed by busy crowds because he’s used to working alone? Maybe he’s just claustrophobic. No matter what is causing your horse’s fear, overcoming it starts with patience.

Step One: Work with another horse

Begin his rehabilitation by introducing him to others in a familiar environment where he feels safe. Ask a friend with a calm horse to ride in the arena with you.

1. As close as your horse will allow, ride side by side on foot and in the same direction. Do this on both reins.

2. Every now and then, switch sides. Some horses feel “pinned” to the outer fence and need reassurance that they are safe when they are between a horse and the arena boundary.

3. Then have the other rider walk behind you.

4, When your horse is comfortable with this, the other animal should walk towards yours – only as close as your horse is comfortable. Don’t take him too far out of his comfort zone at this point.

5. Gradually reduce the gap between the two animals until yours is relaxed when passing on both sides of the oncoming horse with very little space between them.

This may be all your equine friend can take for the first few sessions. Be patient and try not to get frustrated. Your goal is to get your horse to trust you. Pushing him a a little bit beyond his comfort zone is necessary for him to make progress and to realize that he is not going to get hurt. But if you overdo it, you’ll break his already fragile trust and find yourself in a worse position than before.

Slow and easy is key. Once your horse is relaxed and happy with steps 1 to 5, perform the same exercises at the trot, followed by the canter. Don’t go up until it arrives completely relaxed with your current level.

Step Two: Enter a second horse

You are now ready to ride with two others. The second horse should also be a reliable animal, to reinforce your horse’s growing confidence.

1. Walk between the two, in the same direction.

2. Leave enough space between animals so yours don’t feel claustrophobic.

3. If he is uncomfortable at first, walk him on both sides of the duo, then reintroduce him to the middle.

4. When he’s okay with that, walk in the opposite direction.

5. The other two horses should now walk towards yours, with a wide space between them for yours to pass through. If your horse gets anxious, let the other two get away from him. Then repeat the process until he is no longer afraid and can calmly walk between them.

6. Your horse will fuel your confidence: lead him firmly between oncoming animals so he learns that he will not be hurt if he obeys you.

When he is focused on you, start working at a trot followed by a canter, passing between the other two horses as they come towards you again. Only move up a gait when your horse is 100% comfortable with your current one. It is important to do this slowly! Your horse will probably take longer to get used to working with two horses than with one.

Congratulations! You crossed a huge hurdle. Keep practicing with the same horses, then add more or change riding buddies. Your horse may even begin to enjoy riding in company.

Step Three: Change Riding Venues

Before jumping into a show environment, test your horse’s confidence by riding him in an unfamiliar location with other non-show horses. By putting him in a less stressful situation than he’ll encounter at a show, you’ll also be calmer and give your horse the best chance to pass his confidence test with flying colors. Drive him indoors and outdoors. (My horse was more anxious in an outdoor arena, so that’s where I focused his rehabilitation.) Doing this will ensure that your horse is comfortable both indoors and outdoors.

Step Four: Become a Non-Competitor

Unless you’re the super cool guy whose nerves won’t erode your horse’s confidence, you might want to consider taking him as a non-competitor to his first post-rehab show. Choose a low-key venue to reintroduce it to competition conditions. This will allow you to spend as much time as you want in the warm-up arena without the pressure of competition. You will be more relaxed and give your horse a good experience around strange horses. Then take him to the real thing – when he proves he’s ready.


Every horse is different. Yours may be the type to quickly overcome their fears, or they may be like mine and take a lot of time and persuasion! Don’t have a strict timetable for its restoration. If you act like you have to solve the problem forever, it will be solved much faster than if you try to force it before a certain deadline. You might miss a show season – but you’d miss it anyway while your horse was dreading the warm-up. Keep your goal firm, but be flexible with your time frame. Patience is the key.

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