What Do Horses Do When Scared? 6 Things to Watch Out For

Believe it or not; fear is a good thing. It keeps every living being conscious of their environment and also increases their chances of survival. For most animals, even human; there are three ways they respond to fear; they fight, get frightened or flee.

This is the triple F response – Fight, Fright or Flight.

Fight involves physical wrestling; like those that occur between lions and bulls, fright is the loss of ‘coordination’ in an animal that occurs after being threatened, flight or flee involves running from the source of a threat.

So when wondering, what do horses do when scared – you should be aware that the responses horses have towards fear and sudden sounds are not much different from the triple F response detailed above; it is very similar.

Horses get scared very easily, this is why you have to train them well. The ways horses respond to fear is something every rider should know because an unsuspecting rider could end up getting injured. Horses have been known to throw their riders off their back or even kick them when scared.


What Do Horses Do When Scared


Below are just a few of the ways horses respond when scared:

When horses scare, they respond in any of these ways; bucking, kicking, leaping to their side, leaping forward, striking, bolting, rearing and more.

Bucking: This usually occurs when a horse feels insecure. Sometimes when horses don’t trust or know you and feel threatened by your presence; they buck (1). When a horse is bucking, it involves lowering of the neck to a level below the back. Secondly, the straightening of the back and then raising of the hindquarters with a force that can throw a 70 kg man into the air. Lastly, the kicking back of the hind legs. When a horse does this and an unsuspecting rider is on its back, he or she gets thrown off. Believe it or not; more than a thousand riders have injured through this process. 

Kicking: this action is one of the fight responses of horses. When a horse feels threatened, it may let off a show of strength; this is by ‘kicking’. Horses kick to either warn or fight their attacker. Horses kick with their hind legs. How do they do it? The first thing they do is; elevate their hind back, next; they forcefully extend their hind legs, which fly straight at anything in its reach. Their kick is so powerful that it can break a human’s rib; so, next time your horse gets agitated; do well to leave its rear area.

Leaping to their side: This is when a horse jumps sideways. This action signifies agitation and fear. When a horse feels threatened and fear’s danger; it sometimes leap to its side. This action is usually a double one; meaning; they leap to a side and back. Whenever you see your horse doing this, always try to calm it down because soon, it might turn aggressive.

Leaping forward: This is a horse reaction that you ‘should be’ used to if you own horses. They leap forward when they wish to challenge their attack or when they are want to run off. This action is not normally dangerous but, if you happen to stand right in front of the horse; then, you may crash down in no time. If you see your horse leap forward then, it may mean either there is something out there that it is not comfortable with or there is something you do that it doesn’t like.

Striking: This one of the things horses do when they feel challenged or want to show dominance. A horse may also strike if it is afraid; when it does this, it is trying to tell its attacker to stay away. At times, very bold horses strike to intimidate and threaten an unskilled rider or handler. 

A horse strikes by elevating its upper body and kicking out with its forelimbs. These kicks could be for a person, an object or another horse. If your horse kicks at you and it meets you, you could sustain serious injuries, but if it kicks at another horse; you and the other horse’s handler might find yourselves settling a fight in no time. Striking is something you should never urge your horse to do because it can easily become a habit. If this happens; people and other animals won’t be safe around it.

Signs to watch out for, if you wish to know if a horse is about to strike;

  • Its body may tense-up
  • It may neigh and when it does so, it does so loudly
  • It may stretch its neck and then vigorously shake its head
  • It may start leaping in random directions
  • It will roll its eyes
  • And most of all it will back-walk.

Bolting: this is a sudden movement; it involves a horse running away in any direction. If a rider is not a pro and his or her horse bolts; there is a high chance that he/ she will fall off. If you are on your horse and it bolts, you should try to quickly gain control of the horse. When horses bolt, they have little or no idea of which direction then run. This is dangerous for the horse, its rider or anyone who might be on its path. There are different reasons why horses bolt; it could be because of fear or it wants to fight.

Sometimes, horses bolt not because of fear but to get away from their riders. If a horse doesn’t feel safe with you or feels threatened by you; then, it may someday bolt off. 

Rearing: this is the backward movement of a horse. When horses fear danger, they sometimes walk back. At times this movement is not to show submission but a pre-attack movement. Horses sometimes move backwards before striking.

Remember striking is when a horse uses its forelimbs to kick against an object, person or another horse. Always study your horse well to know what it means when it ‘rears’.

Flicking its ear back and forth: If a horse fears danger or feel threatened, it may flick its ear back and forth. If you ever notice this then you better reassure your horse that everything is okay. If you don’t, your horse may either turn offensive or just bolt off in no time.

Tucking its tail: If a horse feels threatened, it may tuck its tail under its hindquarters. Whenever you notice your horse doing this; make sure to stop whatever you do that threatens it or it may attack you in no time. This is also something a horse does at times before it bolts; so, take note.

Moving away after snorting: if a horse feels fear, it snorts and moves away from the source of danger. A horse snorts by forcefully blowing air out from its nose, with its mouth shut.

A horse may squeal: when a horse squeals, it means; it is either afraid or wants to fight. This means that when you notice a horse squeal, you should check what is wrong because that horse might be angry or want to fight. 

Final Thoughts on What Do Horses Do When Scared?

In conclusion, there are different things horses do when scared. Its actions can be grouped into three – it is either a fight, fright or flight response. No matter what response it is, always look for the source of the problem, because if you don’t, you may end up getting hurt while trying to calm your horse down.



  1. Riding The Better Side Of Bucking (Link)