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?

  • 3
    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
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 16:19

2 Answers 2


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 a weapon (I don't recommend). 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.

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.

  • 3
    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. Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 19:10
  • 3
    @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
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 20:46
  • You might get the horse, but he might run you over in his terror. – +1. Horses usually don't want to run directly into you (it can hurt them too), but they want to scare you into thinking they will. But if you hurt them and they panic, then they could very well collide with you when they otherwise wouldn't.
    – forest
    Commented Sep 9, 2019 at 5:02

I have had multiple encounters with wild horses in an environment where they are used to the presence of hikers. There was an obvious pattern where approaching within a certain distance (which isn't the same for each horse) would cause the horse to switch from natural behavior to wary behavior. Any approach beyond that point would result in rapidly increasing alarm on the horses' part and the person doing it would be promptly warned by others to stay back.

However, if one was standing still the horses would approach well within this distance without showing any worry and I have had an incident where a horse wished to go somewhere that due to terrain and a rail forced it to pass only a couple of feet from me. It was obviously wary but nothing like it would have been had I walked that close to it.

I have had a similar experience with some other such animals that I was told were bighorn sheep (but I'm not at all sure of this!) where in their grazing they approached to about 20 feet from me with only a few glances at me (and I wasn't completely still--I had my camera out, taking pictures.) When I moved away a couple of other people moved to the same spot--and now the animals looked quite worried, enough so that I would have gotten out of there promptly. (Again, this was an area where hunting was not permitted.)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.