If your horse is afraid of bicycles it can lead to a dangerous situation on a trail ride. There are several trails in our area that we share with bicyclists. I find it important to be aware of the rules when trail riding and that is that horses always have the right of way. That being said bicycles must yield to horses. Which, in turn, helps alleviate some fear in the horse if the cyclist stops for you and dismounts off the trail, but the fact of the matter is not everyone abides by the rules. Or if a bicycle comes up on your rear, it can cause your horse to spook and possibly cause an injury to you or your horse. The best way to avoid accidents is to prepare your horse. That is done through exposure.
To do this training, you will need a friend to assist you and to ride a bicycle for these exercises to work, but if done properly you can get your horse used to bicycles, no problem. Things to consider:
- Wearing a helmet for both the horseback rider and the bicyclist.
- Keep your body and hands relaxed.
- Talk to your horse assuring them, even having the cyclist talk can help.
- Listen to your horse and let them guide you on how quickly you progress.
I don’t really like the term desensitize, but it is common in the horse world. Instead, think of this as building your horse’s confidence with an unknown object. The whole reason horses are afraid of bicycles is because they don’t understand what they are, they make noise, and the move fast. All of which will frighten a prey animal like a horse. To build up their confidence, the first exercise is to follow the bike. Horses are much braver when the scary object is moving away from them and they are the ones doing the approaching.
If your horse freezes up during any of these exercises, then work on moving your horse’s feet and not worry about the bicycle. Just get your horse’s attention on you instead.
Step 1: Follow the Bike
Begin by following the bicycle. I let my horse choose how close we got. As they relax and are not worried about being behind the bicycle, then you can try to follow a little closer. You can either stop and reward the horse or have the bicyclist speed up away from the horse. This will show the horse that by being brave, you can drive the bicycle away. Do this until your horse relaxes at a very close distance. Poncho gained confidence very quickly following the bicycle and even touched his nose on the rider. But take your time and don’t push the horse in getting closer before they are ready.
Step 2: Ride Beside the Bike
The next step is to speed your horse up a bit and ride beside the bicycle. You can do this incrementally as long as your horse is comfortable. Poncho was pretty comfortable with this step, as we did the first step for a while before I began moving him up beside the bike.
Step 3: Ride In Front of the Bike
This step is the hardest for horses because horses can’t see directly behind them. It’s crucial that your horse doesn’t panic though, because this could happen on a trail. I began by following the bicycle, then cut my circle short to where the bicycle ended up behind us. Poncho went sideways, trying to keep an eye on the bike, but all in all, he did well. But it was by the hardest step for him. I allowed him to turn if he needed and let the bicycle go past. This is where listening to your horse comes in. The previous steps will have prepared him mentally for this step, which is scarier for a horse, especially since they don’t see directly behind them.
Step 4: Stand while Bike Circles Around
If you’ve completed all the previous steps, then your horse should be pretty confident with the bicycle circling around them. Why is this step important? If a bicycle needs to get on the other side of you or come up around from behind to a safe place, then your horse needs to learn to stand still. Poncho did really well with this. His head wasn’t completely relaxed, but he stayed still and remained calm. That’s all we can really expect out of them on the trail. Again, it’s more about confidence than desensitizing.
I hope you found these exercises helpful in helping your horse overcoming their fear of bicycles. Good luck and happy trails with your horse!
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The Backyard Horse Blog says
Riding horses afraid of bicycles can definitely be tough, especially with all the multi-use trails out there. I like your slow, systematic approach to helping Poncho increase his comfort level!
Thank you Mary!