Last Updated on December 7, 2021
Horse behavior is very complex and can be difficult to understand. However, we need to study why they behave in the way that they do, so we can help them to modify their responses and learn how to live peacefully with humans. But why might a horse show aggression towards humans?
If you’ve ever come face-to-face with a horse that is behaving aggressively, you will know exactly how terrifying this situation can be! Let’s learn all about horse aggression towards humans and find out the best way to manage this difficult situation.
Causes Of Horse Aggression Towards Humans
One of the most important things to remember is that horses are not naturally aggressive towards humans. Horses are prey animals – this means that they do not hunt or attack other animals. As humans, we are predators, so in a wild situation many thousands of years ago we may have hunted horses!
It is not in a horse’s best interests to attack or show aggression, and their most instinctive response is to run away from an uncomfortable situation. This is called the ‘flight or fight response, and when it comes to horses they will always choose to run away rather than fight.
So why might a horse show aggression towards a human? The main reason will be that we have put them in a situation that they cannot run away from! So, faced with something they dislike but cannot flee, the horse has no choice but to show aggression.
If you think about how we keep and train horses, compared with their wild counterparts, you will understand how we have restricted their natural responses. A wild or feral horse will be able to quickly run away from any potential threat, but we often do not allow our domesticated horses to do this.
For example, we keep our horses in stalls, stables, and barns. They cannot escape from these confined places, and if they think they are being threatened they have no choice but to show aggression. So even if you think you’re giving your horse a happy place to live, they might feel the exact opposite!
Causes Of Sudden Aggression In Horses
It is very unusual to come across a horse that has an aggressive nature. However, you may meet horses that show sudden aggressive tendencies.
Most commonly a horse will try to warn you off before any aggressive behavior. Remember that aggression is the last resort – before this, he will try everything he can to remove the thing he is feeling threatened by. This means we need to learn to read any warning signs and listen to what our horses are telling us.
The most common way a horse might show aggression without any warning is that he has been startled. A sudden threat will cause him to react instinctively, to remove whatever has frightened him.
The best example of this is that we are all taught never to walk directly behind a horse. This is because they have a blind spot and cannot see people approaching from the rear. If you creep up behind a horse, the most likely reaction is that he will kick out with both hind legs!
Signs Of Aggression In Horses
Horses communicate in a range of different ways, and we need to learn to understand these signals to figure out what they are saying to us. Learning to recognize these warning signals means we can take the appropriate actions to prevent aggressive behaviors from occurring.
Horses use many parts of their body to communicate, as well as noises and movement. It is believed that the facial expressions of a horse may be almost as complex as human facial expressions.
Remember that horses always try to warn us before any aggressive behaviors? These are the warning signals to look out for:
A horse with its ears flat back is feeling threatened or uncomfortable. This is one of the strongest signals a horse can give you, and should not be ignored!
If a horse is tense or frightened, the facial muscles are tightened and the eyes will seem wider. You may also see the whites of his eyes – also referred to as a horse “rolling its eyes”.
When a horse is worried or frightened, he will tighten his lips. This makes the mouth appear smaller. He may also flare his nostrils and snort loudly.
When threatened, a horse will swish its tail aggressively. This is the most obvious sign that a horse is unhappy about a situation or potential threat – do not ignore a horse that is swishing his tail!
- Body Language
Most commonly, a horse will turn its hindquarters towards you if he does not wish to be approached. It is very rare for a horse to run towards a potential threat unless they have no other option.
How To Handle Aggressive Horse Behavior
When it comes to aggressive behavior, the most important thing is to watch for the warning signals. Our horses are trying to tell us how they are feeling, and it is our responsibility to act on that information!
If your horse always shows aggression towards humans at the same time, try to think about what he is trying to say to you. For example, if he turns his hindquarters towards you and puts his ears back whenever you walk into the barn with his saddle, he may have a problem with the saddle, or being ridden, or both!
This means that we need to play detective and figure out just what is bothering our horses. So, in this example, you would get his saddle checked by a professional saddle fitter, and his back checked by your veterinarian. Then ask a qualified instructor to watch you and your horse at work to see if they can identify the problem.
So, as we have learned, horse aggression towards humans is highly unusual behavior and normally happens because the horse feels threatened. It is vital that we learn to understand and respond to the signals that horses are giving us so that we can ensure they feel comfortable and relaxed. An aggressive horse is not a happy horse!
We would love to hear about your experiences, and whether you have ever come across an aggressive horse. Or maybe you’ve had aggression problems with your pony and managed to solve them? Add a comment below this post and we’ll get back to you!
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE