In some parts of the western United States there are herds of wild horses. How dangerous could a herd be to a human on foot while hiking or backpacking?

If they are dangerous how should a human protect themselves?

  • 2
    Pay big attention to the ears - the further back they are the more unhappy the horse is. Don't make eye contact and keep walking slowly but confidently, horses react to your emotions.There isn't so much as protecting as avoiding them - mostly horses tend to avoid you unless they have some level of domestication ('Wild' Dartmoor ponies for example) Related: outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/7792/… – Aravona Mar 14 '17 at 16:19

Obviously, since horses are animals, they are relatively predictable (they have known behaviour patterns), but can be very unpredictable (they are autonomous creatures).

Note first that horses are not predators. In other words, they're not out there to get you. The only case in which they become a threat to humans is when they feel that you are a threat to them. Even at that, in general, they are somewhat like deer; if they feel threatened, their first instinct is to evade the danger.

However, they are tougher animals then deer, and they are well aware that they can defend themselves to some extent: their legs are so powerful they could kill you. (Reference)

So the answer to your first question is, yes, horses can be dangerous to humans if they feel threatened.

In answer to your second question, the major aspect of protection is prevention. Keep a safe distance between you and any wild horses you come across - this article suggests 50 feet as a good minimum distance. Obviously, the more horses there are, the less threatened they will tend to feel, therefore keep a greater distance.

There's not a lot you can do as far as protective gear is concerned, short of carrying an automatic weapon (I don't recommend) or outfitting yourself in medieval armour. (Pepper spray or other chemical solutions won't do a lot of good since they're coming at you. You might get the horse, but he might run you over in his terror.)

If you're in an area that has trees, however, a rope and grappling hook could get you out of the reach of wild horses - if you're quick!

Bottom line: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Play it safe. Don't get too close to wild horses (no close-ups with a 50 prime), don't make loud noises: avoid frightening them in any way. And, oh, by the way, if you have a good telephoto and are taking pictures, be sure to keep one eye out of the viewfinder from time to time.

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    A specific point that might be worth adding. I walk among wild(ish) ponies all the time on Dartmoor and have never felt threatened. But local experts have told me to be careful not to come between a mare and her foal, as this is about the only situation where they might attack. This is also true of cows and their calves. – Tullochgorum Mar 15 '17 at 19:10
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    @Tullochgorum, true of almost all animal kinds, I believe. The famous ones I've heard of are bears. "Never get between a bear and her cub" is almost idiomatic in some areas. – anonymous2 Mar 15 '17 at 20:46

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