An angry horse spells trouble for an owner that can’t recognize the signs of its behavior and cannot address it in time. Your horse can become angry because of a variety of reasons including pain, discomfort, fear and more.
To prevent accidents from happening you must look out for behavioral cues that will let you know how your horse feels.
Recognizing these on time will help you implement calming strategies and prevent the escalation of the problem.
Because I know it can be daunting to try to control an animal whose weight can be 5-10 times bigger than your own, I will walk you through 7 of the most notable signs that your horse is angry.
I’ll also discuss calming strategies that will help put your horse at ease and curb its aggressive behavior.
Why Will a Horse Get Angry?
Like humans or other animals, horses have different personalities. And something that might bother one horse, might be accepted without protest by another horse.
What I’m trying to say is that there’s a whole spectrum of possible reasons why your horse will get angry. Here are just some that I’ve observed in my horses along the years:
- Stressful situations including meeting strange horses.
- Injury or pain.
- Brushing or grooming styles that bother them.
- Fear of something or getting spooked by something.
- Unfitting tacks that cause discomfort.
- Stress, boredom, lack of mental stimulation or physical exercise.
As you can see, the list is varied and rather long. Don’t stress about it, however. If you know how to recognize the tell-tale signs of an angry horse and know how to calm your horse down, you won’t get into trouble.
Luckily, horses are good at letting you know their feelings and if you know what to look for, you can manage the situation before it escalates into something more serious.
Angry Horse Behavior
A horse that is angry will give off multiple signals. It’s important not to view these in isolation and interpret them in context to get the whole picture and diffuse the situation as soon as possible.
The behavioral cues that you’ll most often see in an angry horse include:
– Baring Teeth
Although your horse may show its teeth because of benign reasons like the Flehmen response (reaction to smelling something unusual), baring teeth can also signal that your horse is angry.
This could be because of a strange horse whose presence your horse dislikes or other things that might be bothering your horse including dental pain or another discomfort.
While baring teeth alone does not tell the whole story, taken together with other behavioral cues, it may point to your horse being angry.
– Pinning Ears Back
Flattened ears or ears pinned back might also signal that your horse is not in a good disposition.
Although it’s true that horse ears can rotate 180 degrees and they can move their ears back just to detect where sounds are coming from, often flattened ears, when accompanied by a tense posture, flared nostrils, or widened eyes, will signal anger and frustration.
Through these behavioral signals your horse is warning you to back off, because things are about to get ugly.
And if you don’t know how to calm your horse, you’d better heed its warning.
Stamping or pawing the ground can mean something benign as your horse trying to get rid of an insect from its legs, but more often than not, it means your horse is impatient or bored.
A horse that is left in its stall all day without any stimulation will soon get bored and stomp its feet in frustration or as a way to get your attention.
A stallion will also stamp the ground in frustration when it wants to mate. Horses that stamp their feet when another horse is present are trying to assert their dominance or are signalling that they’re about to charge.
These are dangerous situations that need a stern and immediate intervention to deescalate the situation.
– Tense Body Posture
A happy and content horse will have a relaxed, laid-back body posture. When a horse gets angry, his muscles tense. You’ll see them raising their head, their backs will tense, nostrils will flare and tails will swish.
Pain, discomfort, stress, impatience, disease and frustration can all translate into a tense body posture.
If you see your horse raising its head and generally tensing up, you should investigate things further to pinpoint the problem as soon as possible.
While these may indicate anger, they’re just as likely to be caused by sudden pain or discomfort caused by ill-fitting tacks.
– Widened Eyes
Eyes widened with their whites showing is usually a sign of a stressed or angry horse.
Widened eyes are usually accompanied by a raised head and tense muscles that taken together with other signs such as flared nostrils or pawing the ground will paint the picture of a very angry horse indeed.
A horse may widen its eyes to reveal its whites also in fear, excitement or as a trait of the breed (Appaloosa horses have eyes that naturally show the white portion).
That said, if your horse is tensing up and showcasing the other signs of anger that I described above, chances are high that it’s angry and you need to take care.
– Swishing Tail
A horse may swish its tail simply to chase away flies and other insects. But when it does so, its whole body posture is often relaxed and there are no other warning signs that your horse may be angry.
When there are other signs that indicate anger such as stamping the ground, tensing up, flattened ears, then a swishing tail just adds to the general picture of a horse that’s frustrated and angry.
A horse may swish its tail while you’re riding it because of discomfort caused by ill-fitting tacks.
Excitement can also be expressed through a tail that’s swishing, but in such cases the horse isn’t showing any signs of anger or frustration.
– Turning to Show Hind Leg
While the behavioral signs I discussed so far are serious, a horse that’s turning to show its hind leg or raising its hind leg means serious trouble.
A horse that behaves like this is threatening to kick and you should absolutely stay clear out of its path. Under no circumstances should you approach a horse from behind, especially not when it’s behaving like this.
A horse may raise its hind leg simply to rest it. This is not a sign of anger or aggressiveness. Your horse is simply resting and conserving energy.
However, when your horse raises its hind leg while having its ears pinned back and its head raised or while stomping the ground and generally being tensed, you should immediately deploy calming strategies to prevent the situation from snowballing into an accident.
How to Calm Your Horse?
Now that you know how to read your horse’s behavior and interpret its cues, how can you manage its anger and calm it down?
Your response to an angry horse should be situational, based on your familiarity with the horse and the assessment of the situation at hand.
Here are some options to consider based on the trigger that caused your horse’s anger:
– Remove yourself from the situation
In case you’re not familiar with this horse or you’re a complete beginner, your safest bet is to remove yourself from the situation as soon as possible.
– Asserting dominance/Distracting the horse
If you’re familiar with the horse, you can reprimand it if its anger is directed towards you. You should approach your horse only from the front and issue commands or direct its attention to something else to distract it from the source of its anger.
– Removing your horse from the situation
If your horse is displaying anger towards another horse from the herd, you’ll need to remove your horse from that situation, or separate the two horses to prevent attacks and injuries.
– Soothing your horse
If your horse is angry because it got spooked, you should remove the source of fear and implement soothing strategies to calm your horse down.
– Accounting for discomfort and pain
In case of anger because of discomfort caused by ill-fitting tacks or an injury discovered while grooming your horse, you should adjust the tacks and treat the injury.
Your response to your horse’s anger should be based on a quick assessment of its behavior and the situation that triggered it.
But you’ll be able to do this only if you spend enough time with your horse and get to know its behavioral cues well enough and recognize its triggers.
It’s crucial to familiarize yourself with how your horse reacts to different situations and what these reactions and behavioral cues represent. A lot can be on the line when you can’t manage an angry, aggressive or frustrated horse.
Make sure you spend time training your horse and establishing a connection with it. All these along with recognizing the signs of anger in your horse will come in handy when new or unfamiliar situations occur.