Does Your Horse Suffer From ‘Cowphobia’?

To you, it’s just a cow, but to your horse, it’s… I DUNNO, BUT WE GOTTA GET OUTTA HERE AND FAST!!! Lila Gendal explains how to help your horse overcome its bovine fears.

Top: Skybreaker saying hello to some cows last summer.

From Lila:

My horse HATES cows. My horse will not go on that trail because we have to go past a herd of cows. My horse won’t do this or that because of cows. I hear this ALL the time. I have been at Tamarack Hill Farm since 2006 and there have been cows here every summer. My boyfriend owns them and he switches the cows around constantly from pasture to pasture… so you never really know where the cows will be hiding. You may be wondering how many times have I fallen off because my horse spooked, spun, bucked, reared, etc. because of a cow? Answer: ZERO.

Truth be told, not all the horses here love cows. Some of them could care less and have even shared their pastures with cows (whenever the cows decide to break down a fence) and some are not in love with the idea of cows, but they all have learned to cope. It’s amazing how many riders come here and cannot go school cross-country or go trail riding “because of the cows.” Obviously, not all riders have access to cows and that’s understandable… but if you DO have cows nearby and your horse is terrified of them, there are ways to get you horse over this fear.

Oh you know...just a little cow jumping off a bank caught on camera!

Oh you know… just a little cow jumping off a bank caught on camera!

Introduce the concept of cows from a distance.

One of the horses I ride, Skybreaker, is not a fan of cows. He is one of the most apprehensive horses I have ridden here and it has taken him several years to get over his cow phobia. My other horse could care less about cows and never had an issue with them, even from day one. Every horse is different and with Skybreaker I had to gradually introduce him to cows. He use to freak out and try to spin every time he saw one. I was never in a rush to force this horse to go mingle with the cows. I knew better than that. I have taken my time and in the beginning I always took him out with horses that were good with cows.

If you treat your horse like he’s supposed to be scared, he’ll be scared.

If you know your horse is worried about cows, you have to be extra “chill” so to speak. You have to act like riding past these crazy looking creatures is NO BIG DEAL. You have to show your horse that nothing bad is going to happen when they come in contact with cows. It can take a long time. As I mentioned, it’s taken Skybreaker probably four years to get over his cow phobia.

The more frequently they can see the scary four-legged creatures the better.

If you have access to cows, or can trail ride past cows, you should… especially if you have a horse that doesn’t like cows. If I know my horse is terrified of something, whether it is a hose, or a tarp, or a certain jump, or whatever, I make sure he or she gets over that fear so we can move on with our training. Once a horse feels safe and confident everything else seems to fall into place.

I want to leave you with a cute video clip of Rosie’s Girl, an OTTB mare who is currently competing training level with THF’s barn manager Daryl Kinney. This little mare is very versatile–she can jump well over four feet AND she herds cows on her own… impressive huh?! Here’s Rosie’s Girl this afternoon in her flying lessons and below that is a must watch video!

Rosie's Girl FLYING!

Rosie’s Girl FLYING w/ Daryl Kinney!

Go Riding.


About the Author

My name is Lila Gendal and I am 27 years old. I am from Vermont and have been riding horses since I was 6 years old. I have been eventing since I was 10. I have been riding and training with Denny Emerson for the last 7 years. My goal is to compete at the upper levels someday. I currently have a 2005 Holsteiner mare, “Valonia” (Contester X Parlona), who is currently going training level, and I am riding one of Denny Emerson’s horses, a 2005 Selle Luxemburg gelding, “Beaulieu’s Cool Skybreaker” (Beaulieu’s Coolman X Une Beaute by Heartbreaker) who will be moving up to training soon! When I am not on a horse or in the barn I am likely working in my office on what I like to call Equine Media… or social media for equestrians and equestrian websites.

V aug jump school!

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