Horse and Fear: What Are Horses Scared of? (Explained for Beginners)

Horses are known to be large, majestic, and strong creatures. As confident as they can be, they can get easily frightened by other animals or even just tiny unusual things. 

Their fear maybe unpredictable at times which you can sense through their body language. Horses are prey animals which justify their behaviors towards strange moving objects, usually running to survive.

Aside from running or stomping, a scared horse is restless, breathes heavily, showing white eyes, and has zigzag movements.

So, what can make your horse scared?

horses

1. Donkey

Horses are scared of donkeys because of their looks, smell and personality.

Donkeys are known to be tough, bond well with others and defensive of its place and animals they are united with. If they sense danger, they will definitely fight the predator if required, making them a good guard animal if desired.

Horses can be scared of donkeys if they are not raised with them. Because of horses’ survival instinct, a new animal in their environment can possibly bring any danger even if it is smaller and a prey one too. Donkeys’ smell and look can make a horse terrified as they are not familiar with them.

However, there were some instances when horses were seen pushing donkeys away because of their herd mentality. These rare cases only show that some horses might not get well with donkeys even if you try getting them closer with each other.

2. Mice

Mice can startle a horse with its invisible and fast movement.

Horses can get easily anxious even with just little movements because of its survival instinct. Any unusual sound will make a horse scared as it may think a predator will hunt it down.

Generally, your horse should not be accustomed in sharing its space with mice, seeing them going back and forth in its stable as they can spread diseases. Mice can bring dangers to your horses’ feeds as their urine and dropping can cause salmonella and trichinosis. Likewise, mice also carry various parasites like ticks.

3. Snake

Horses are afraid of snakes. Snakes can frighten horses because of their hasty movements and unexpected appearance without warning, especially from dark places.

A horse’s fear of snakes is more of being alarmed once they hear the sound that these slithering creatures are making. As snakes can move very fast, horses’ are terrified as they do not know what will appear in front of them; plus, the fact that snakes can look quite odd for horses.

Some horses are showing curiosity once they see snakes, while others would definitely be nervous and run away.

4. Camels

Horses are scared of camels mainly because of their unusual smell, sound and size.

As a prey animal, a horse will always be startled once it encountered a big creature that may cause danger. Even though camels are herbivores just like horses, their presence maybe overwhelming especially during a first encounter. Camels’ physical features, such as long necks, can make a horse think that they are predators.

This will not be a very big problem since camels are generally harmless for horses. They will not trouble horses and might just look at them. If you want your horse to adjust in an environment with a camel, you can just put them together in stables close enough so they can be both get familiar with each other.

5. Dog

Horses are scared of dogs. Dogs are predators, usually hunting and chasing, which terrified horses since they are prey animals.

Horses that are not raised with dogs will definitely get scared if they meet one. Dogs could be frightened too if they are not used to seeing horses. Dogs can be curious or anxious as well which could end up chasing or showing aggression towards horses.

In general, dogs came from the predatory group which chases other animals to stay alive. With the possible hostile attitude of dogs, you horse will surely sense a dangerous attack. Your horse’s flight instinct will be stimulated; it will run away in order to survive.

6. Pig

Pigs scared horses. The unpleasant smell and appearance of pigs, together with their strange sounds make a horse frightened and run away.

Just like other animals, pigs make horses startled because of their physical features. We could all agree about the strong smell of pigs which is rare not just for the nose of horses, but other animals too.

Horses are used to seeing and going along with other herbivores; that is why a pig’s presence might pose a threat given the fact that it makes lots of squealing and snorting.

Compared to a sheep that would just watch a horse nearby quietly, pigs are usually grumbling in groups which can definitely cause tension to a horse that is not used to having pigs around.

7. Fire

Definitely, horses are afraid of fire because they know it can cause danger to them. Commonly, a scared horse will run away from danger. However, it may be different with the fire scenario as horses may stubbornly stay at their stable to feel safe.

No one would feel blissful if a fire is burning stables of horses. Even you would be afraid and panic, thinking of you and your horses’ safety. Just like your reaction, your horse will certainly be dreadful and anxious. Your horse will not only be afraid of fire and smoke alone. It will also be scared of the environment, the wind and the noise around.

Unreasonable as it may be, your horses will run back to their stalls in fiery stables.

What is the reason behind this irrational decision?

The simple explanation is that your horses identify their stalls as the safest place for them, especially if they are stabled on a regular basis. Their stalls are their safe home since their food is there; likewise, these are their space for resting.

The smoke, running people, loud sirens and all other noises are highly alerting the flight instinct of horses. They know they need to escape from the chaotic scene. By escaping they need to feel secured, which they can only find in their stalls.

8. Water

Horses are afraid of water because they could not recognize its depth; by instinct, they must stay dry as they aim to protect their legs at all times from indefinite path.

Encountering a puddle or small body of water is highly expected if you are doing trail rides with your horse. It is very common for a horse to become scared, not wanting to cross or even take a step on that swift stream, if it is its first time and not yet trained to do so.

Not being acclimated with water will definitely make your horse turn away as it doesn’t know what is waiting once a step forward has been made. Your horse has no idea whether it will be taking easy leaps or fatal ones just to cross a stream.

Each time you ask your horses to cross water, you are putting lots of pressure and questions to them. The best thing you should do is to make sure you build solid trust with your horses; then, introduce them to water, train them slowly, repeat the process and never rush or push them to their limits.

9. Firework

Horses are afraid of fireworks because of the flashing bright lights and deafening blasts.

Horses are not the only animals that can get easily startled by loud noises. The flashes with thunder-like sounds can be usually seen and heard during holidays and events. As an owner, you must be worried about your horses’ reactions once the periods for celebrations are coming.

Even the calmest horse will get terrified once it hears fireworks. The noise will bring so much stress and anxiety to your horse so it is important to be prepared beforehand to help it cope up.

Various behaviors that are associated with anxiety such as perspiring, galloping and quivering can be observed when your horse sees and hears fireworks. Your horse might even break through their stalls due to agitation.  Injuries such as strains and sprains might also occur as your horse’s behavior can get extreme with continuous fireworks blasts.

10. Human

Instinctively, horses can be afraid of humans if they just meet them since they are unacquainted and no trust has been formed yet.

Being a prey animal, a horse will always have its guard up high and ready to flee anytime if it feels danger. As a human, you must prove that you bring no harm and are ready to build a lasting relationship.

If a horse perceived you as a threat, its next actions can be unpredictable that may even cause dangers to you. Even if the first approach of self-preservation of horses is running away, they are still wild horses inside that have a capacity to hurt or even kill humans.

It is important that you, as an owner or trainer, know how to properly communicate and build trust with your horses. There are positive human actions that might have negative meanings to horses’ perspectives.

You might not realize that the more you bring yourself closer to your horse, the more it rejects your approach as the actions you used are against its natural instinct of safety, making them more confused and scared.

References

Blue Cross. (2019, December 9). Keep dogs and horses safe around each other. https://www.bluecross.org.uk/pet-advice/keep-dogs-and-horses-safe-around-each-other

Charles Sturt University. (2020, July 31). 10 common things humans do that scare & confuse horses. CSU News. https://news.csu.edu.au/opinion/10-common-things-humans-do-that-scare-and-confuse-horses

The Donkey Sanctuary. (n.d.). Understanding donkey behaviour. https://www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk/what-we-do/knowledge-and-advice/for-owners/understanding-donkey-behaviour

Williams, C. A. (2004, April 22). The basics of equine behavior. Equine Science Center | New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. https://esc.rutgers.edu/fact_sheet/the-basics-of-equine-behavior/