Equinophobia is an extreme fear of horses. The word is derived from the Latin word ‘equus’ which means horses and phobos which is ‘deep fear or dread’.
Nearly 8% of people around the world are known to suffer from various animal phobias (Zoophobias). Sigmund Freud has described Equinophobia in detail in his landmark paper on “Little Hans” (Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-year-old Boy) based on young equinophobe Herbert Graf. It tells the story of a young boy who developed the phobia after watching a carthorse pulling heavy load collapse in the street. The kid later described being “extremely afraid of the blinkers in front of the horses’ eyes as well as the black region surrounding horses’ mouths”.
Another famous person suffering from the fear of horses is NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs’ Eric Berry.
Causes of Equinophobia
Animal phobias of various kinds are more common in women than in men. However, in almost all the cases, the phobia develops from a negative or traumatic event in the past that is related remotely to horses.
- A child having been bitten, kicked, thrown off or trampled by an angry horse will forever remember the pain or blood around horses well into his adulthood. Horses also have very large teeth and penises which can seem frightening to young minds.
- Experts also believe that many specific or animal phobias tend to run in a family. A parent displaying a fear of horses might unknowingly pass it on to the child. Genetic factors like adrenal insufficiencies can also lead to phobias.
- A disaster, an accident or an illness that is closely/remotely associated with horses can lead one to permanently fear horses.
- Wild horses can be large, frightening and unpredictable creatures. They have muscular strength and speed on their side which some humans find intimidating. Actor Christopher Reeves of Superman fame was paralyzed neck down after being thrown off by a horse. News reports of similar incidents seen on TV/media etc can cause already high strung or anxious people to develop an intense and persistent fear of horses.
Symptoms of fear of horses
Most cases of Equinophobia do not cause any problems in the sufferer’s life. However, in extreme cases, this fear can be quite debilitating especially when it is impossible for the individual to avoid the object of his/her fear.
Some Equinophobes display the following physical and emotional symptoms:
- Panic or anxiety attacks
- Rapid breathing, accelerated heart rate
- Trembling, feeling dizzy, fainting
- Fleeing at the sight of horses
- Crying, screaming or getting hysterical.
- Gastrointestinal distress in the form of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea etc may also be present.
Young children having this phobia are likely to be teased or ridiculed by their peers. Often the phobia is accompanied by other anxiety disorders and phobias.
Treating and overcoming Equinophobia
One of the most effective therapies for treating Equinophobia is Cognitive Behavior therapy. It is a form of psychotherapy that consists of changing maladaptive thinking patterns in the phobic. Through this therapy, individuals learn to take an open, mindful and more aware posture and approach towards the object of their fear, in this case, horses.
Reading and learning about horses can also help phobics realize that their fear is irrational. Horses, at least the ones that are well-bred and tamed, are generally harmless. Statistics also show that they normally do not harm humans as long as one takes necessary precautions while handling/riding them. Movies like the Horse Whisperer also show how the lead character talks to horses in a gentle and reassuring manner in order to help the Equinophobe overcome her fear.
Another effective therapy for overcoming the fear of horses is gradual/systematic desensitization. This consists of slowly acclimatizing oneself to horses by looking at their pictures, thinking about them and gradually progressing to touching or riding them.
These are a few ways of treating and overcoming Equinophobia once and for all.