8 Useful Tips to Teach your Kids not to Fear Horses

Written by Beulah Martin
Girl riding a horse being led by dad

If you are a horse lover like I am, you are always happy when your children also have a love and a desire to enjoy horses. In fact, their first words are usually horsey, horsey! They seem to not be afraid of anything.

However, ever so often one of your children ends up with a severe fear of horses. It could be something that happened to them earlier in life that scared them.  Or just the fact that a horse is of a tremendous size to a child, with large, strong teeth.

Whatever the reason, it is of a concern to you. You would like to find a way that you could help them overcome their fear so that they could have joy with you and your love of horses.

There are actually some benefits of fear. Having fear will help us to have caution around something that could end up being harmful. Your child’s fear would stop him from getting in a dangerous situation around horses when you were not there. Like walking too close to the back of a horse that kicks. Entering a pasture with lots of horses that are acting up. Trying to feed a carrot or other feed to a stallion that is known to bite.

Well, you get the picture. Fear comes in handy to save them until they began to grow more confident.

However, we can teach them to overcome fear and also teach them the safety rules that would keep them safe. This is a far better solution to the problem.

Here are 8 tips that I have put together that I hope would be of use to you in helping your child overcome their challenge of fear.

1. Help them have a love and respect for horses

This can be done in a myriad of ways. If you have horses on your property, introduce your child to them. Tell them their names and funny characteristics they have. Show that you think of the horse as a friend.

If you do not have horses of your own, make an effort to drive by horses in other pastures pointing out the unique characters they are. This phase is just trying to get them to think about horses. To consider that they might be interesting to find out about. Without actually making them do any action with them.

2nd phase would be looking at picture books, calendars, paintings and other sources of good pictures of horses. There are lots of good movies and even youtube videos that you could introduce that would hopefully thrill the child into thinking that the horse was special and beautiful.

3rd phase: Good books on horses. There are so many books that I enjoyed as a child that fed my love of horses to the brim. You probably read most of them yourself. There is:

‘Black Beauty’ – The classic tale written by Anna Sewell, which tells about the cruelty and kindness that was inflicted on this horse in her lifetime.

Marguerite Henry’s series of books called Stable Classics which included the much loved ‘Misty of Chincoteague’ and 7 others.

‘The Horse and His Boy’ by C. S. Lewis which was part of his Narnia series.

The last one I would like to recommend is my personal favorite ‘The Black Stallion’ series by Walter Farley.

As your child gets to know these horses they will learn to love them and trust them.  

The next phase would be to actually meet a horse face to face. No pressure. Just a friendly get together. Next would be touching a horse. This might take some actual courage but hopefully they would be willing to try it.

With some help and supervision it would be great if the child would agree to sit on the horse and maybe even be led around a little. Lots of petting and talking to him.

2. Don’t shame them for their fear

What we resist persists. Help them understand and recognize where their fear is coming from. Help them talk about it and encourage their thoughts. Letting them know that they are legitimate and they have a right to feel the way they do.

Don’t ridicule their fear or call them “baby.” Let them know their fear is understandable.

Don’t say that he won’t hurt you, because in truth, since he is so big and sometimes unpredictable it makes sense that they should understand caution. Your child has probably heard of many stories where people were hurt by horses.

Let them know that a respectful knowledge of the horse is good and that as they learn more about handling the horse their confidence and trust will grow.  

3. Let them work within their comfort zone

At first your work would be on the ground. You could let the child began by learning how to brush and groom the horse. They could work up to leading the horse around with you standing close by to encourage.

Even helping muck out the stalls and get the feed ready is good work and does not put any pressure on them.

On the ground teach the child how to put pressure on the horse to get them to move as a response. Letting them see the horse really does want to please them and is more than willing to do what is asked.

Showing some of the basics from the ground is a great way to ease their fear. They do not have to be mounted up to learn how to stop the horse. Turn left and right. If they could get enough nerve to coax the horse into a trot to run beside them it would be great progress. The sessions should be short. And not too much emphasis on skills. Mainly just exercises to get to know the horse and see that he does not want to hurt.

It helps to not only tell them what they are learning, but also why. The child seems more willing to communicate with a horse on his terms when he can understand the how and why.

4. Have the right horse to work with

Now we get to the point where it will be important for the child to have worked up enough courage to get on the horse. Of course you will be there to give encouragement and support. It might have to be on a lead line for a few times.

If the child balks at this, go back to the beginning. Don’t rush them. Let them work at their own scale.

The horse does need to be considered. If it is too big, it is scarier for the rider in all kinds of ways. A pony is not always a good mount for an inexperienced beginner. Yes, they are small in size and would seem to be a good idea. But ponies are smart and sometimes hard headed. Sometimes hard for the child to control.

And the little buggers can be very slippery. They can slip out from under the rider with ease. An adult is usually to large to get on the pony and try to work out  his bad habits, and the pony gets away with it.

A well trained, older horse is usually your best choice. The younger the rider the older the horse should be.There is an option between a mare and a gelding. No Stallions. A gelding has a reputation for being more reliable in all around situations.

Mares seem to be more willing and responsive, but when she comes in season (when she can be bred) she may get a little bit crabby and a little harder to handle.

5. Start with baby steps

Confidence is a fragile thing. You have picked the right horse now, but what if he is one that is too eager to go. Or has a fast trot or canter.

We have found that having an older child or small adult who can get on the horse with the young rider and sit behind them as a balancer or support can really aid at this time. Many a young rider has learned to sit at the trot and canter this way.

The lunge line is a good training tool at this time. Being able to have control of the horse while the rider is learning to get his seat helps immensely.

The rider should always have the right equipment. Their shoes should have a heel that would prevent the foot from slipping through the stirrup.

A must is a riding helmet. Amazon has an Equi-Lite Horse Riding Helmet for kids. It is a helmet that adjusts for new to intermediate riders. Having the right equipment will help the young rider feel prepared and safe.

If at any time the fear takes over and the child does not want to continue. It’s good to go back to some of the basics to distract them and the horse. Do not let them give into the fear and quit, instead think of something that will be easy for them to do mounted or on foot.

Do something fun. Children love games. A good game to play is red-light, green-light. Have another child come and ride if possible. This will really encourage your child to have a little less fear when he has a companion.

6. 4-H programs are a great help to give your child experience

The 4-H program is a great foundation program for sound advice for young horsemen. This is a great source to get information about horses and can give your young rider confidence. The local county extension agent can help you find out about it.

You can find that number under county government listing in your telephone book, or go to www.4Husa.org.   

Extension offices. Affiliated with the U. S. Department of Agriculture provides materials and gives lots of support to the 4-H club around the country.

Joining the 4-H horsemanship program will provide lots of benefits for your child. They will make good friends. Learn all about horses and riding. And also learn about citizenship and leadership.

The members of the 4-H have to demonstrate how well they know and can handle a horse to be passed from one level to another.

7. Pony clubs

Pony Club is an international youth organization which helps to teach and train youth about horses and riding. Pony Club organizations are found all over the world not just in USA.

Members of the Pony Club are ages 8 to 25. Success in Pony Club is not being better than someone else, it’s getting better than you were.

Either one of these organizations would be a great place for your child to grow and discover how much fun having and riding a horse can be.

8. Ask questions

Every parent knows that every child is different. It’s not one plan fits all. You have to get to know that child and what will really be the best way to help him. The only dumb question is the question that is not asked. There are plenty of people in your area that will be only too glad to share any information they have with you.

Just remember that trust drives out fear. Do what is needed to help your child develop trust. Trust in you and trust in the animal.

Make it fun. Do fun things. Ride out together. Let the child ride out with other horses if you know it is safe. Send your child to take a riding lesson from a known reputable instructor. All this care and devotion from you will help your child enjoy his experiences with the horse world and conquer his

Fears. You can’t ask for anything more than that. Good Luck and Happy Trails.

What is the fear of horses called? The fear of horses is called equinophobia, which is a Greek word.