Equinophobia or hippophobia is a powerful and often irrational fear of horses. Hippo is the Greek word for “horse” and equus or equine are Latin words for horse. A person does not have to be injured by a horse in order to develop this phobia, although a fall from a horse is a common trigger.
The father of modern psychiatry, Sigmund Freud, had a patient who suffered from hippophobia. He was a five-year-old boy who Freud called “Little Hans” and he was intensely afraid of two things — being bitten by a horse and of growing up to have a large penis. Freud, already convinced of the strength of the Oedipus complex, concluded that horses represented a father figure. In the Oedipus complex, boys are often afraid of their fathers cutting off their penises because they want the love of their mothers. Fathers were competition.
Little Hans did seem to be genuinely frightened by an actual horse. He lived in the early 1900s and one day, he witnessed a cart horse collapse. The noise of the horse’s collapse frightened the boy. His fear became so intense that just the sound of horse hooves on cobblestones gripped him with terror. When Little Hans was growing up he heard horses pass by every day. Freud wrote extensively about the case in his paper “Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-year-old Boy" (1909).
Freud’s interpretation of equinophobia in the case of Little Hans is now considered extreme. Fear of the father may have played some role, but Hans saw and heard horses every day. Seeing any cart horse triggered the memory. The panic would return and the boy was frightened all over again. With treatment the phobia eventually disappeared and several years after Freud's paper was published he wrote of meeting Little Hans again who was now a strapping youth.
Any sort of phobia, including hippophobia, is now considered an anxiety disorder. The Anxiety Disorders Association of America explains that although phobias of very specific objects like horses can develop in childhood, they can also arise at any time of life. Symptoms of a panic attack brought on by a phobia can come anytime. The symptoms include rapid heartbeat, painful tightness of the chest, nausea, sweating and trouble breathing. Just the fear of having a panic attack, let alone of meeting a horse, can trigger panic attacks.
Exposure Therapy Treatment
The goal of exposure therapy is to reprogram a conditioned response with another response. Patients watch videos of horses or listen to short tapes of horses whinnying, galloping or making other noises. The therapist helps supervise these sessions and praises the patient for being calm.
The goal of exposure therapy is to get the phobic to pet a real, live horse without experiencing a panic attack. However, in some cases this may not be necessary. For example, if a patient has several phobias, working on another phobia may help cure all of their phobias.
Over time, the patient replaces the memories of fear caused by horses with thoughts of nothing bad happening when a horse appears or makes noises. Each patient recovers at his or her own rate.
On occasion some people with hippophobia may need antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication in order to be calm enough to go through therapy.
Simply Psychology. “Sigmund Freud Case Study: Little Hans Case Study.” https://www.simplypsychology.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/little-hans.html
“Psychology: An International Perspective.” Michael W. Eysenck. Psychology Press; 2004.
Anxiety Disorders Association of America. “Specific Phobias.” https://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/specific-phobias
Ailments.com. “Equinophobia.” https://www.ailments.com/716/Equinophobia.html