The effect of fear in horses: brave or blind obedience

As it’s Halloween, it felt somewhat poetic to talk about something scary…

Have you see the video from the French CCI5*, Les Etoiles de Pau, of the horse jumping into the wall? If you haven’t seen it, yes, it’s as scary as it sounds. British Rider, Jack Pinkney, ended up veering through a gap in the event’s fencing and the horse attempted to jump the very high wooden palisade wall, crashing into it and depositing Jack.

Jack has had a lot criticism via social media in regards to his decision to continue despite his rein breaking earlier on in the course, potentially leading to this accident or certainly being reckless towards it happening, and in regards to his ‘loss of temper’ after the incident. Needless to say, I would have liked to see him running to see if his horse was ok rather than throwing his toys out the prom after the event but, I also appreciate that sometimes we all act badly in the spur of the moment, with the adrenaline running high, and whilst in shock. So, I won’t comment any further on him, I am sure it’s been a sharp learning curve.

What about the horse though? Thankfully he was remarkably unharmed considering how drastic it looked. But, what makes a horse behave like this, have no consideration to self-preservation and launch himself at a wall?

There must certainly have been some element of momentum, adrenaline and tiredness involved. Three quarters of the way around a cross country course there has to be. Maybe the light into the wooded area caused a shadow or illusion of a smaller fence? However, I just can’t help but think there must be some amount of fear involved.

Horses are flight animals and they run. But running blind to the point you run into a wall is a fear reaction, no?

The rider says “Being a brave horse with confidence in our partnership, he eyed up the wooden dividing wall between two parts of the course…..”

But was this horse being brave? Where is the line between a horse being brave and trusting vs fearful of saying no? Should a horse be brave if it means losing all instincts towards self preservation? Or was there more to it and the blind obedience actually stems from some degree of fear? I would say there has to be.

“A good horseman can get horse to do almost anything, a great horseman can get the horse to want to do it.”

American Pie and Kelly Marks jumping a drop fence on sponsored ride
Pie and Kelly being bold!

If we are using fear to motivate a horse, that isn’t a true partership in my eyes. Whilst riders still carry whips, riders are still believing that fear is needed to motivate a horse to jump.

Perhaps like I wrote in my blog about riders being brave. I don’t want to be brave and I don’t want my horse to be brave, as that is ignoring our instinct for fear. I want us to be bold, which is founded in confidence in our partnership and ourselves.

Food for thought. Let me know what you think.

It’s tricky….. Happy Halloween.

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3 comments

  1. I wonder who had the blind panic? The rider or the horse? We ride with two reins for a reason, unless trained otherwise. I hope a lesson was learned as to the best course of action when your tack breaks ! Great blog Daisy. Thank you x

  2. It is food for thought for sure Daisy. Eventers need boldness to get over those jumps all of which they mostly haven’t seen before. I do think the light can play abig part in the errors and misjudgements that occur. It does beg the question as to the type of training that has caused this horse to, as you say, appear fearful or agitated to the point of paying no heed to his self preservation. I cannot imagine that Alicia Burton’s Goldrush would ever behave in such a fashion. I wouldn’t want to be free riding on Jack’s eventer any time soon lol! Good to know that they were both ok though x

  3. I believe that we should seek to engage the horse, capture their interest not their spirit.Seek their trust and in so doing be responsible for their safety. In this way we achieve a true partnership

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