Kicking, biting, and charging can be normal horse behaviors. Your horse might be competing to mate, showing their domination in the herd, protecting their foals, or defending themselves. But if your aggressive horse is threatening the safety of other horses or humans there may be a problem. We are here to tell you why a horse might become aggressive and how you can help them change concerning behavior.
Are Horses Naturally Aggressive?
By nature, horses can be a bit aggressive. But the species as a whole isn’t known for being intensely hostile, especially with other horses in their herd. A kick or threatening glare with ears pinned back may happen — it’s normal in certain situations. But horses are usually not the most confrontational animals.
A recent study has proven that humans may be the cause of unnatural aggression in horses. Two Polish researchers reviewed horse behavior, noting that inappropriate handling of more dominant or fearful horses became the source of their aggression.
The experts found that the most common forms of aggression came from “the desire for dominance,” as well as fear, hormonal disorders, unsuitable living conditions, and disease. Aggression could be made even worse from poor management, including keeping horses in small areas, isolating them, or feeding them incorrectly. It was made clear that humans had to become more aware of behavioral signs to ensure that a horse had the right mental state.
Are Some Horse Breeds More Prone to Aggression?
It’s difficult to pinpoint which breeds are more apt to become hostile since most horse enthusiasts believe that horses are not aggressive overall if treated correctly. Still, some people have identified horse breeds that are known to be the least likely to show aggression at all. These friendly horse breeds include:
First introduced in the 1930s, this horse is often kept as a pet. It’s a bit too small for riding. Because of their friendly personality and usually mellow attitude, Miniature Horses are very commonly used as therapy horses.
While muscular and hard-working, this horse is quite popular because of its pleasing demeanor. They were domesticated over 4,000 years ago and have since become one of the friendliest and most gentle breeds out there. Like Miniatures, Norwegian Fjords are popular as therapy horses.
Tennessee Walking Horse
Known for delivering an easy riding experience, this horse was first bred in the 1800s in the south. They have continued to be popular because of their leveled, upright gait and their equally level personality. This is a breed that makes riding smooth all around.
This breed remains one of the most popular in the United States because of its easygoing temperament. People seeking friendly horses are often pointed in the Quarter Horse’s direction. Whether you’re riding for pleasure, racing, or work, the Quarter Horse is easygoing and enjoyable to be around.
While these breeds of horses are known for not being combative, there are certain situations that can make any horse become upset or angry. Each horse is an individual and each has their own unique personality and experiences.
Why Do Some Horses Become Aggressive?
Stallions are more violent than mares on average. While stallions are known to get along quite well together, they can start becoming combative when in the presence of mares. That’s because they’re competing for dominance among the other male horses, hoping to prove their right to mate.
Because stallions can become aggressive when mares are around, a lot of people keep them separate. Isolated from stallions, mares usually become dominant in their herd. The most dominant mare is often the eldest and most in-your-face. Studies have actually proven that a dominant mare in the herd makes the younger and lower status horses feel less anxious and more relaxed.
Horses can also become hostile if they want to control their resources. This may be food, breeding partners, water, and space. This is especially common if they don’t have enough food, space, or water — this makes them anxious. Being anxious, frightened, or threatened can also lead to aggression.
Horses at boarding facilities may become aggressive if they are not used to the herd they’re incorporated into. Inadequate socialization at an early age can also make horses act aggressively when they come into contact with other horses or large herds.
Aggression can also happen if a horse is frustrated or in pain. If a horse has a certain medical condition or disease they can also become more aggressive than usual. If your horse is suddenly showing signs of aggression, you may want to bring them to a specialized veterinarian to ensure they’re healthy and find the source of the issue.
Symptoms of Horse Aggression
Aggression in horses can be identified thanks to body language, behavior, and actions. Here are some things to look out for if you suspect your horse is behaving more aggressively than usual.
Aggressive Body Language
- Lowering their head slightly & waving their neck from side to side
- Ears flattened backward
- Rapid tail movements
- Retracted lips
- Agitated body movements
Aggressive Horse Behavior
Snaking is a very common behavior when a horse is combative. Snaking is a herding behavior often used by stallions, both wild and domesticated. Horses will lower their head and flatten their ears back, their neck oscillating side to side. Stallions will often snake to make other horses in the herd move in the direction they desire. It also asserts dominance.
A horse might also snort, squeal, and bow their head. Male horses can also defecate in the same spot each time, known as fecal pile display. This is a marking behavior that lets their territory be known. They may also defecate where other male horses have, which is extra aggressive.
Your horse may also levade, where they rear up with flexed hindquarters. They’ll often have their back at a 35-degree angle, bending their hind legs. They also may threaten to kick.
While some forms of aggression can be left up to interpretation, there are some aggressive actions that can’t be ignored. If a horse is showing extreme aggression, they may chase other horses, wrestle them, kick them, and even bit them. Be cautious because they may try to kick and bite humans, too.
How to Calm an Aggressive Horse
Bring Them to a Vet
An increase in aggression may be caused by chronic pain. This leads to irritation, discomfort, and frustration. The root of the problem may not be easily fixed, meaning a veterinarian may have to take a closer look. If you find the source of their discomfort and address it, the aggression may naturally fade once they are comfortable and happy again.
Provide an Aggressive Horse with CBD
CBD oil and CBD horse pellets might be a viable solution for an angry horse. Like all mammals, horses have an endocannabinoid system (ECS) within their body. This controls their mood, digestion, joints, and more, working to create a sense of balance in their body no matter the internal or external conditions.
CBD is a natural, non-psychoactive phytocannabinoid found in hemp plants that reacts with the receptors in a horse’s ECS. By attaching to these receptors, CBD may help to balance your horse’s mood. This can make them feel calmer, alleviating their hostile feelings and tendencies. CBD may also lessen the discomfort they are feeling, making your horse more relaxed and comfortable.
Avoid Triggering Pain and Fear
A horse could become aggressive when they hear certain sounds, smells, or touches. They may associate these with a painful treatment they’ve had in the past or mean treatment by former owners. You can reduce aggression by minimizing these painful treatments and procedures and by treating them as gentle as possible. You can also try to eliminate any triggers that are not mandatory. If they are calm in response to your handling, reward them with treats, pets, and soothing words.
Provide Them With More Space and Food
Since horses could become combative to maintain dominance or a social status in their herd, try providing more space for your horses. With more pasture space and widely dispersed food, horses will feel more confident and peaceful. You may even want more timid horses to get their food separately from the others.
Introduce Horses Carefully
If there’s already an established hierarchy in their herd, a new horse may be disruptive and cause aggression throughout. Select an enclosed area with plenty of space, more than an acre if possible. Make sure there are no places a horse can be cornered. Put the new horse in the enclosure first, letting them get familiar with the surroundings. Bring in members of the herd one at a time, allowing them adequate time to get used to the new horse’s presence.
Make Sure Foals Have Proper Socialization
Foals have to be taught what’s right and wrong pretty early on since they are sometimes missing that from their own mother. At about six months, foals mature sexually. That means you need to train colts and fillies quite early to ensure they know it’s wrong to nip and charge people, act aggressively for food, and kick walls or other horses.
You can do this by reinforcing positive behavior — like only giving them their food when they are not kicking or pinning their ears. Make sure foals also have access to other horses in the herd, allowing them to understand proper interactions early on.
Training an Aggressive Horse
Horses with this behavior need trainers they can respect — and trust. Start training an angry, violent, or tougher horse in a round pen. This is a more controlled environment where you can establish a routine and a sense of direction. The goal here is to work with the horse until they take direction from you. That can take time.
For a while, you will notice that the horse lashes out violently. Or maybe they try to scare you or threaten you. You may start to feel like you lack control and it might scare you. Any time they act out in this matter, try not to back down unless it’s getting too dangerous. Experienced horse handlers may start “chasing” the horse around, showing the aggressive stallion or mare they’re not as dominant or in control as they think.
Putting that kind of pressure on a horse can make them uncomfortable. They start to realize that you won’t back down when they pin their ears or levade. Just like the higher up horses in a herd, you holding your ground and “hustling their feet” should make them realize their tantrums aren’t working — they aren’t getting their way, just like they wouldn’t in a herd with more dominant horses.
Don’t Punish Your Horse
Make sure you aren’t punishing your horse. This can make them fearful, leading to more aggressive behavior down the line. Instead, the goal is to let them relax when they don’t show signs of aggression and then assert your role as the number one horse when they try to challenge you.
An aggressive horse will realize they want to be your partner when you earn their respect and trust. You may notice that they follow you around the pen and make eye contact with you. This will only work if you are persistent, consistent, and establish that trust.
Final Thoughts – Aggressive Horse
While many horses are known for their docile attitude and kind personality, some horses can become uncharacteristically aggressive for a large number of reasons. The important thing to do is identify the reason your horse has become angry, anxious, fearful, or frustrated — and then address the problem. This could mean reaching out to a trusted vet, getting them special treatments, or simply providing them with more space, food, or tenderness.
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Written by Olivia Richman at www.holistapet.com