Just as we teach our horses how to stop, turn, and spin, we should also teach them how to be brave. Building bravery creates confidence. A confident horse is a safe horse.

Case Studies Teaching Bravery

There are various ways to build bravery. In this article, I will share two different case studies in which a horse was taught to be brave.

The Banner

At one of my clinics, a participant’s horse was deathly afraid of a banner that was on the right-hand side of the arena. As she was riding him around the arena, every time they came up on the banner the horse would start getting very unsure and nervous. So first she tried coaxing the horse to get closer and closer to the banner. She would kick and smooch and do everything she could to drive him up to it until the horse would totally freak out, jump sideways, and bolt down to the other end of the arena.

The Solution

She asked me to help find a solution and teach the horse to be brave. So I got on the horse and started fast trotting a right circle around the arena. Sure enough, when we started getting close to the banner, the horse started getting weird. Before he decided to bolt, I turned him to the left and trotted off to the other end. When we came around towards the banner again, he bravely got a little closer before he got weird. When he started getting bothered, I turned him to the left and trotted back to the other end. 

The Goal | Teaching A Horse To Be Brave

The goal was to get the horse’s attention off of the banner and on to what I was asking him to do. I gave him something else to think about and somewhere to go. Each time around the arena he would get a little braver about the banner and get a little closer to it before he felt the need to find a way out.

Then we did the same thing, but now at a walk. At the slower pace, the horse had more time to think about his surroundings. As we approached the banner and he started looking at it, I wiggled my left leg to draw his attention back to me, turned him left and walked off. After a few more laps, the banner became invisible to him. He could bravely walk right by it and act like it wasn’t there. The horse was taught to be brave about going by the banner.

From Scared Horse To Brave Horse

If a horse doesn’t think he can flee, he will fight. So the worst thing I could have done is confine the horse and force him to go towards the banner. That would have pushed him to resort to his natural instincts of flight or fight. I gave him a way out. I provided the solution he was looking for. It took about 15 minutes for the horse to go from scared to brave.

The Umbrella

This case study involves one of my own horses. On a rainy day, my wife went out to feed our horses. In an attempt to stay dry, she took an umbrella with her. When she put the umbrella up, the bay horse just stood there but the sorrel horse went ballistic. He was deathly afraid of the umbrella

For more tips about desensitizing, grab my free Desensitizing Flowchart

Lessons To Teach Bravery

When she told me about it, I decided to teach the sorrel horse to be brave towards the umbrella. So I went up to him with the umbrella open and he had the same reaction. Going towards him with the umbrella was more than he could handle. So I put him on a halter, and started walking him around. The umbrella was in my hand, but I was holding it close to the ground. He was okay with that.

I kept walking with the horse behind me, and raised the umbrella up a little. The higher I raised it, the more unsure he got. So before he got to the point of running backwards and dragging me all over the pasture, I lowered it back down. We continued on and each time the horse became more brave. I could raise the umbrella a little higher before he got too bothered. The horse would draw the line and let me know when it was becoming more than he could handle. At that point, the umbrella would lower back down. 

Bravery Builds

Since the horse was behind me, the umbrella was not coming towards him, but he was ‘chasing’ it. After a few minutes, I could raise the umbrella all the way up without any reaction from the horse.

To progress even further, I began moving the umbrella up and down pretty briskly. Any time his bravery started to wane, I moved it a little slower. His bravery was rewarded and his confidence increased

Next, I had him move his shoulders and hind end to the right and left. I gave him a job to do and something to think about as I was moving the umbrella all around. Pretty soon, I could do anything I wanted with the umbrella and he was completely chill and brave about it. 

Watch a video of this Case Study here: BuckarooCrew.com

Teach Your Horse To Be Brave

I hope these two case studies will help you see that it was the approach that made the difference. How you approach everything you do with your horse will either build his confidence and bravery or kill his confidence and bravery. Always match the level your horse is at and then help him progress to a higher level. Don’t do more than he is ready to handle. But also don’t neglect your responsibility to teach your horse to be brave.

For more info about building confidence, go here: Spooky Horse | Why Is My Horse Spooky?


Carson James
Carson James

Carson James' background is in Vaquero Horsemanship, and for the majority of his career, he worked on cattle ranches where he rode horses all day, every day. His knowledge comes from real life experience using traditional Buckaroo horsemanship to train horses and fix problems. He is now taking all of this knowledge and experience and sharing it with horse owners through his blog, his Insider list, and his Buckaroo Crew. He has a unique way of breaking things down where they're easy to understand, both for the horse and the human.