China are playing as the invitational team at the HSBC New Zealand Sevens in Hamilton over the weekend.
China won the Asia Rugby Women's Sevens qualifying tournament in Guangzhou in November courtesy of an unbeaten run through five games including a 33-0 win over Hong Kong in the final.
Horan said he had made use of his connection with the New Zealand women's sevens group to play games against them before the qualification tournament.
"They beat us up, and they really taught us a lesson," Horan told world.rugby.
"That was awesome for us, and we went away with the old cliché of a shed-load of learnings and a lot of self-reflection of what do we want to be?
"That was when I probably saw a turning point in a lot of the players, that was really cool to see. They turned and they really decided what they wanted to do, and that helped us for qualification," he said.
The China team have been in New Zealand for a month preparing for the tournament and spent Christmas with Horan and his family in Tauranga.
The qualification achieved under the 2016 Olympic silver medal-winning coach Horan had caught on in China and there had been a lot of celebration.
"The [players] are starting to believe in themselves, and that's probably the biggest thing that we've really had to break – that self-belief.
"And the self-belief is that if we do things right, do it well and we're patient, but we enjoy every day being here with a smile on our face, we'll love it. And I'm seeing girls who are truly loving it," he said.
The squad for the Hamilton tournament had only two players remaining from their last world series appearance, in Biarritz last year where they finished seventh.
"Every day we're just aspiring to be better. It's going to be a bit of a journey for us, I don't expect us to [wave a] magic wand – boom. But I do believe in the side that we've got. I believe in the staff that we do have and the programmes that we're trying to establish in China.
"If we do it, do it right, in four or five years if we continue on the same trajectory that we're going on, we'll go long," Horan said.