How to Overcome Shying


One of the most misunderstood problems that people have with their horse is shying. There are all sorts of old wives tales about why horses shy and what to do about it.

Lots of trainers say that the best thing to do for shying is allow the horse to stop and look so he can see there’s nothing to worry about. Some trainers even allow the horse to approach slowly and sniff the offending object. It’s also said that if you flap things around your horse, he’ll get ‘used to’ flapping objects and won’t shy at flags, banners, umbrellas etc. in the future. This thinking is flawed because horses don’t reason in this manner. Allowing your horse to stop and look, or approach and sniff things won’t stop him from shying. And neither will flapping things around him.


In this photo, I'm allowing the horse to stop and look.

When you’re in the middle of a dressage test, you don’t want your horse to stop and look and sniff the judge’s car or an arena marker or a flower pot. When you’re half way around the second peg in a campdraft, you don’t want your horse to look at the banner flapping on the fence. When you’re riding down the road, you don’t want your horse to stop or move sideways every time he sees something new.

At some point, every horse will want to shy away from a noise or something that he sees in the bushes. He may want to stop and look at things that ‘worry’ him. When your horse does this, his concentration goes away from what you want and onto what he wants to do. If you allow this to happen, your horse will soon learn to stop and look and shy whenever he feels like it.

You can allow this or you can teach your horse that even though he’s a little worried, he must still do as you ask. He must move exactly where you ask, in the gait you ask, at the speed you ask. When your horse concentrates on these three simple things, he won’t shy or stop and look.


In this photo, I'm teaching the horse to concentrate on me and what I want to do.

Whenever you ride or work with your horse, he must concentrate on you and what you want. He should have one ear back ‘listening’ to you at all times. He should try his hardest to work out what you want him to do. If his concentration goes onto something flapping on the fence, it means he’s stopped thinking about you and what you want. And it means you’re no longer in control.

Never confront your horse with things that worry him. Instead, you must gain more control and not allow your horse to look at things. If your horse is worried by something flapping on the fence, keep away from it and don’t expose him to it. Come back to basics and gain more control. Ride in an area without any distractions and teach your horse to move correctly in a circle. Your horse must concentrate on you at all times.

Next lesson, ride in the same precise circles and move a little closer to the worrying item. Don’t make a confrontation. Make sure both you and your horse concentrate on moving in correct circles. It may take a few lessons but eventually you’ll be able to ride your horse past the flapping item without a drama.

Whenever and wherever you ride, you must concentrate on your horse at all times. Immediately he pricks his ears and looks away, you must take hold of him and touch him with your leg to tell him that he must concentrate on you and what you want. If you’re consistent, your horse will soon learn that what you want is much more important than shying or stopping to look at things.  

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Exactly what I teach my students, great stuff Neil. Sometimes it is also about the rider learning to ignore the scary objects and make sure they also keep their focus on the task at hand. To be in control of your horse you need to be in control of yourself. To expect your horse to focus on the task at hand the rider also needs to keep their focus and not become distracted. If I see a horse or rider becoming worried about an object or distracted I sometimes say to my students 'give your horse a job' (such as shoulder fore) with the idea that the rider keeps their focus and keeps the horse engaged with the task. Plus in my experience, even waving flags around and walking horses over tarps etc there is no way to completely desensitize a horse to everything they will come across in their lives. As you say Neil, horses don't reason like humans. My observations are that horses run first and ask questions later. I don't think you can extinguish that part of their nature or psychology. They will always want to run first/ask later but as you say it is about keeping your horse on your aids and focused on the job and not giving your horse the opportunity to shy. I do think that there are maybe some occasions when you can do the stop and look. My background is eventing and sometimes when training I will 'school' a horse to a jump i.e. we walk up to it stop and have a look. But I make sure I have my eyes up, legs on, soft seat, contact, keep my horse straight, aim for the middle of the jump, my horse must stay straight and look at the jump/where he is going etc, etc. So even though we may be walking up to the jump to have a look it, it is a controlled kind of walk with my horse firmly on my aids. There are no guarantees with horses as they are unpredictable but I find that what you are saying (and what I generally do) work quite well 99.9% of the time.

Sylvia January 27th, 2017

Hi Sylvia,

Thanks for your compliment Sylvia. Glad to hear that you take such a commonsense approach to your horses and students. As you know commonsense isn't very common.

Keep up the good work!

All the best from Neil

Neil Davies January 30th, 2017

Hi Neil when you are out hacking/trail would you expect your horse to have an ear on you all the time? Sarah

Sarah Eustice September 21st, 2016

Hi Sarah,
Thanks for your question.
Even when I walk along on a loose rein I expect my horses to be still thinking about me.
Cheers Neil

Neil Davies October 19th, 2016

Wish I lived in Australia I love Neil's way with horses I would love to spend time with Neil and horses and to absorb his manner and understanding. Sarah

Sarah Eustice August 21st, 2016

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