At last weekend’s Your Horse (Virtually) Live, dressage star Carl Hester answered your questions in an exclusive Q&A.

The question: How should I work a horse that’s developed a phobia to having other horses anywhere near them, especially in the warm-up area at a competition? I compete an ex-racehorse with this issue.

Carl says: “This is a horrible feeling. You can feel your horse tense when another is coming towards it. If it gets boxed in, they turn round, they run off — it can be dangerous. I’ve had two horses like that, and I did several things:

  • First of all, you need to be able to ride in an arena with some thoughtful and helpful friends. You don’t want people riding at you and squashing you in.
  • I’ve had people come here with horses who have this problem. They come and ride with us and we’ll start with one other horse in the arena, then two, then three and so on. We’ll all stay on the same rein. We all walk around together. We put the horse in between us so it gets used to it in walk and isn’t terrified. Bit by bit we build up.
  • If that horse comes towards me, I come down to walk and let it trot past me, because the faster someone goes at your horse like that the more terrified it gets.
  • This issue needs to be worked on this way instead of going to a competition, where you can’t fix this problem because you can’t say to people you have to be on the same rein as me or don’t canter near me.
  • The other obvious place to go is a riding school. Ask if they’d mind you joining in one of your lessons and just tag along at the back of a very basic riding lesson, say walk and trot. Hang around at the back and get used to being with other horses like that.
  • We have a six-year-old on my yard at the moment — he became six-year-old champion this year — who was very nervous of other horses, so I turned him out with two others. The three of them lived out together. He’s got so used to galloping around with them, he’s fine now.
  • In the beginning he was tip-toing around the fence hoping they wouldn’t notice him. Of course, horses being sociable animals said: ‘come here, you’re going to be our friend’. They still live out together and he’s got over it because he’s with other horses all the time.”