Most people have a hard time believing that horses are prey animals given their size and strength. Horses being prey animals explains some of their character traits and behavior.
When they encounter danger and have to choose between fight-or-flight, horses opt for the flight response most of the time. Even though horses are heavier and larger than most animals, they lack fighting and self-defense skills.
Horses walk, graze, and spend time together in groups. They are always ready to flee the danger zone at the moment’s notice.
Horses feel safer in groups ready to fight or flee in any unpleasant situation. Ever since their domestication, many horses are protected by their owners and ranchers.
Horse owners keep them safe by guarding the barn with guard animals and other security measures. Still, horses are vulnerable to attacks from wild animals and predators.
In every ecosystem, species have complicated relationships, to put simply, some species eat others. Some animals eat other species labeled as predators whereas others are prey species.
Horses end up as prey animals on the food chain. They do not eat other animals and their diet constitutes grasses and hay.
There are many animals that hunt and kill horses. As the popular phrase goes “hungry enough to eat a horse”, it is true that some predators are brave and powerful to attack a horse when they are extremely hungry.
- Mountain Lions
- Feral Dogs
Horses have well-developed senses and flight responses, they can understand quickly if they are being targeted by a predator.
They dodge and flee from any remotely scary encounters instantly. Fighting the predator is not an option for them as they always choose to flee.
Wild horses are more susceptible to predator attacks than domestic ones. Domesticated horses are hard to hunt as they usually roam around in the fenced spaces.
Owing to the human intervention, it is less likely that the territories of predators and wild animals would overlap.
Predators usually go for an easier game, whereas, horses are physiologically and instinctively well-equipped to tackle them.
Still, dozens of predators would seize the opportunity to feast on the big animal. Predators usually go for young and miniature horses as they are easier to handle.
Usually, when they find a horse alone, they would avail themselves of the opportunity to consume delicious horse meat. Following predators look for a chance to hunt and kill horses.
Even though wolves do not waste their time hunting for wild horses because of their size, however, if the perfect opportunity arises, they will attack the giant animal.
Wolves hunt elk, deer, horses, and other large animals. They are intelligent and skilled pack hunters who roam freely to hunt for weak, sick, or injured animals.
Wolves strategically hunt in packs covering long distances of the ground looking for food. Wolves are responsible for livestock losses on most ranches and farms.
Packs of wolves take down the big game when the opportunity arises. Wolves pose a little threat to the population of wild horses.
Wolves attack domestic horses when they find one alone in the paddock. If they look for a sick or old horse unable to escape or fight usually get attacked by the wolves.
They are quick and smart hunters capable of knocking down large animals. When hunting in packs, they are unstoppable.
Another deadly predator for horses is Mountain Lion. Otherwise known as Cougar, they are capable of taking down prey many folds its size.
Mountain Lion prefers living in montane, coniferous forests, lowland tropical forests, swamps, grassland, and dry brush country.
Cougars thrive in rocky mountainous areas where they can move stealthily and get adequate cover.
With height advantage, they can easily attack prey. Even though horses stick to open areas of prairie and grasslands, still, Mountain Lion can hunt big animals.
Puma manages to sneak undetected when the prey is nearby and attack immediately.
A solitary young horse or foal is easier to hunt for a Mountain Lion. An innocent horse would not be able to defend itself against the smart hunting strategies of Puma.
These athletic hunters stalk their prey and can run and leap great distances. Wolves and Mountain Lions are the primary predators and pose a big threat to the equine population.
Grizzly Bears are lethal, heavy, and one of the largest carnivores.
They prefer to hunt smaller game but if the opportunity presents itself, bears would not let go of the chance to attack and kill a horse. They tend to attack horses when desperate or extremely hungry.
Grizzlies occasionally prey on horses as they are not easier to handle given their size. It takes a lot of effort and energy to attack, kill, and move the mass.
So, they do not usually chase down a healthy adult horse, however, if they happen to encounter a sick or injured horse, they would avail themselves the opportunity to feast on the horse meat.
Grizzlies can outrun a horse over short distances but they can not keep up the pace for long.
That’s one of the reasons bears usually avoid hunting wild horses as they would easily escape. Bears can be quite dangerous to solitary, penned domestic horses and cattle.
Coyotes are smaller than wolves but equally intelligent and skilled in the art of hunting. Coyotes only hunt horses when the opportunity arises.
If Coyotes find a helpless horse on the way, they would not miss the chance to kill an animal as big as a horse.
The usual victims of coyotes are squirrels, rabbits, birds, and other small animals.
These clever pack hunters usually do not get involved in a fight that they believe they can not win.
Horses are too big for coyotes and these predators can get severely injured while attacking a healthy, grown-up horse.
When a pack of hungry, desperate coyotes encounters a young, sick, injured, or old horse, they would seize the opportunity and attack immediately.
Only a pack of coyotes can chase and knock down the horse. However, it would not be possible for a single coyote to get the hunting job done.
Most horse owners will be shocked to find Alligators on the list of horse predators. They attack horses once in a blue moon when it is easier to tackle large animals.
Most prairies are home to alligators, bison, black bears, and wild horses. Alligators usually satisfy their hunger with fish, birds, and small mammals.
Their usual victims are small animals but they occasionally hunt for horses and cattle.
Alligators are truly effective and deadly hunters when in water. Horses swimming in the water would be helpless against the alligators as they would not have anywhere to escape.
A few deadly bites and the job is done. It is almost impossible to save horses from alligators in the water.
It can be quite dangerous to swim or take long baths in alligator-infested areas as it can lead to a life-threatening situation.
Groups of feral dogs are responsible for livestock losses as stated by ranchers and farm owners. Feral or hybrid dogs form packs and tend to be more deadly, aggressive, and bolder than wolves and coyotes.
They do not shy away from picking up a fight with animals twice their size. Most of the time, they cause trouble to cattle, horses, and domestic livestock.
A pack of dogs can chase and outrun wild horses herds causing injury and ultimately death. Wolves and coyotes create new hybrids by mating with domesticated dogs.
These hybrids are often referred to as “Coydogs” and “wolfdogs”. They do not act rationally or as per their behavioral characteristics and can trouble a herd of wild horses.
Even though these hybrid dogs can be quite dangerous, still, clashes or encounters between horses and dogs are rare.
Cattle ranchers and farmers need to be watchful of these lethal dogs as they prey on domesticated livestock.
It would not be fair to opt-out of one of the primary predators, human beings. Humans are well-known to kill a variety of animals, either for food or other purposes.
Some hunting enthusiasts kill small and large animals including horses. Humans often chase, capture, and kill horses to prevent their overpopulation.
Horses compete with cattle for resources, so, more damage is done to the land. Also, humans in an effort to prevent harm kill wild horses or acclimate to domestic life when caught young.
Besides sneaky Mountain Lion and intelligent wolves, humans are the biggest threat to the wild horses.
Dangers To Domesticated Horses
Domesticated horses are far more vulnerable to predator attacks than wild horses. These aforementioned predators can be quite dangerous to domestic horses due to following reasons.
- Lacks Flight Response – Unlike wild horses, domestic big horses are brought up in a peaceful environment. They are acclimated to strange animals and lack flight responses. Domestic horses do not see large cats or bears regularly or fear dogs and other predators. They do not perceive these animals as threats and let them approach and only know when it is too late.
- Do Not Have The Ability to Flee – Domestic horses live in smaller areas, stalls, or barns with limited space to roam freely. Their living environment is responsible for their reduced ability to flee danger or perceive threats quickly. It is easy to corner them even in a large, open pasture. Smaller corrals make it easier for the predators to handle them.
- Poor Health – Even though wild horses also go through starvation and neglect, proper care and veterinary attention are bigger concerns for domestic horses. Horses with poor health can not fight the predators as they lack proper feed, farrier care, and veterinary attention.
Defense Mechanism Of Horses
Horses are not easier to hunt and can be a formidable opponent for most hunters. They can not easily get away as horses have many tools to protect them from such attacks.
- Horses have better, well-developed flight responses as they can outrun most predators.
- Thanks to the excellent monocular vision, horses get to see a wide view of landscapes to detect any sneaky predators.
- Horses can hit a painful blow to the hunter as their strong hooves are made of keratin.
- As horses’ teeth constantly change throughout their lives, their sharp teeth are strong enough to break the skin.
In brief, there are plenty of predators who like to feast on horses, however, it is not as easy as it seems. Most predators prey on young, sick, and old horses as they can be easily handled without wasting a lot of energy.