“re·as·sur·ance [r?-?-?shu?r-?n(t)s]: Noun. Something that is said or done to make someone feel less afraid, upset, or doubtful. To restore confidence.”
These are the first internet definitions that come up.
If we were relating this to humans I think it would be relatively easy to come up with ways to reassure someone who was afraid of something, something we could see was obviously nothing to fear. With a horse it may not be that simple.
When they are afraid and stressed their behavior can quickly become so erratic and the movements so big and fast that the situation becomes quite dangerous for us humans. Because a horse is a prey animal (eaten by predators) it is only logical and natural for their fear responses to be so huge.
In such instances it is important that we first never judge the animal as being bad or naughty, or doing something intentionally to hurt us. We are dealing with fear of not surviving. This is a basic fear we can all have. I believe it is very important that humans accept this before they attempt to deal with a fearful horse.
Knowing when and how to reassure a horse is huge for humans interacting with horses. Whether on the ground with a horse or riding it, knowing what to do and when to do it to assist in alleviating a horse’s fear is very important for both horse and human.
Horses have two basic responses to scary situations. The first one is to run away. If it is at all possible for the animal to do this, it will. The second, if the horse feels trapped, is to become very aggressive and to fight for its survival.
When I work with a nervous or fearful horse I do my best to stay below the panic threshold where it may want to jump out of the arena (or whatever the enclosure I am with the horse) or it feels it necessary to attack me. This involves the ability to ‘read’ a horse’s emotional state accurately.
We need to be self-aware of our own emotional state too as the horse will tend to mirror the emotional state of the human. If we can remain calm when the animal gets fearful, this in itself can be reassurance for the horse that there is nothing to fear.