Q&A: Help! My horse hates tractors

  • Q: I have bought a seven-year-old cob that had previously been used for driving and hunting. He was sold because he had become tractor shy, and his owners felt he was no longer safe to pull a carriage.

    When I ride him, he seems happy to accept the tractors driving around at home, but will panic and bolt if he meets one when we are out hacking. This is making me lose my nerve.

    I have now started to dismount whenever I see a tractor coming and he will then stand quietly while it goes past. What I should do when we meet a tractor?

    Liz Clemence BHSII replies: “It may help you to understand your horse’s reactions if you can trace his history and find out whether his apparent fear of tractors is long-term or due to a particular incident. Still, you bought him knowing he had this problem, and unfortunately you may have to accept it.

    Your horse may be more nervous at the moment because he is as yet unfamiliar with you and his surroundings. The following points might help.

    • Hacking out with a bomproof schoolmaster who will not react to the traffic, will set your horse a good example and should help to build his confidence.
    • Wearing a fluorescent tabard with the words “caution nervous horse”, or “please pass wide and slow”, will warn tractor drivers of potential problems.
    • Upon meeting a tractor, use hand signals to ask the driver to slow down, but keep riding forward positively into a firm rein contact, praising your horse with your voice if necessary. Your horse will sense any hesitation from you and will react accordingly. You may find that as your partnership builds and your cob learns to trust you, he regains his confidence.
    • Plan a route where you are less likely to meet tractors and think ahead, riding into gateways to allow tractors to pass where possible.
    • If the safest way to pass a tractor is to dismount, and this can be done with a minimum of fuss, then, although not ideal, it may be the safest option.

        Ultimately, your safety is paramount and it is not worth putting yourself, your horse and any other road users at risk. I would also recommend that, whenever possible, you transport your horse to bridleways or other areas where you can ride without undue risk.

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