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Questions About A Horse Attack

Dear Mr. Walker,

How do you do? I’m a biologist and I’m looking for some answer regarding horse behavior... While searching on the web I came across your page describing how to deal with aggressive horses (, and it seemed to me that you were the right person to explain me an incident that happened to me a week ago. I hope you find the subject interesting and that it won’t take much of your time…

A week ago, a friend of mine and I were hiking through a Belgium National Park. We walked through a path having a forest on the left and a bush-covered slope running gently into a reservoir some hundred meters away on the right. We heard some horse neighing coming from into the forest from time to time, and eventually a stallion came out of the forest short of 100 m behind us. It looked like a Polish Konik or some similar looking old horse breed. It is more and more usual that nature reserves in Europe maintain free-roaming horse or cattle herds in order to naturally control vegetation growth, so at first we didn’t pay attention to the horse. But, once out of the forest and on the path, the stallion resumed neighing “furiously” and we curiously looked at it. Then it turned the head towards us and, when it saw us, and without any interaction with it on our behalf, it charged running toward us, head low, whinnying loudly and showing the teeth…

Horse attacks are relatively uncommon. Unless you encounter that horse again in the same Park, you are unlikely to have it happen again. If you are a horse person and you deal with a lot of different horses you may find yourself in that situation more than once but on a percentage basis, horse attacks are quite uncommon even though they do occur. When a horse attack happens to you it is not something you easily forget.

First question: why? I guess it’s an impossible one to answer…

Could be any number of reasons; territorial, self defense, harassment by humans or other horses, rabies, just feeling full of himself.

Second question: what would you had suggested us to do?

I tell you what I did: I lost my nerves, turned back and started running through the bushes towards the water. In my mind was the idea that, should the horse keep behind us, it would eventually stop if we jumped into the water. A stupid idea, might be… as you may realize I’m not the bravest person alive, either. My friend came running close behind me, but he was wise enough as to keep looking over his shoulder to check what the horse was doing: it seems that it reached the place where we left the path and run a little bit through the bushes behind us, but quickly stopping.

Apparently, since you came away unscathed, what you did worked.

My friend suggests that we should have run towards the forest, stating that the horse would have run slower among the trees, and that eventually we might have been able of climbing to one, but in my mind, since the horse came out of the forest, it made more sense to go otherwise…

*I* personally would have run right at him screaming and hollering, "I'LL KILL YOU, YOU MESS WITH ME!!! What you did was right under your circumstances. I have enough horse experience to know that I don't want my back turned to him because that may encourage him and I can't outrun him anyway. If he wants me, he's got me and I want to be facing him when we close, if we do. I'm going to be trying everything I can to make him think I'm badder than he is. If the opportunity presents itself to put a tree or other barricade between you and it, and being able to keep it between you and it, that's usually helpful.

Do you think that the attack was only a bluff, and that the horse would never have come close to us, should we had stood up? It was a pretty convincing bluff, though. I imagine, whatever its final motivations, that the horse didn’t really intend to get us, because it would easily have outrun us should it be its wish; and that it was just pissed off for whatever reason and wanted to make us flee from there. I’m just worried in case there had been with us somebody who couldn’t run: a child, an elder or whoever. I guess in that case the answer would be to try to kick and scare it in every possible way, although there were no sticks or stones on sight that I recall…

The attack, and it was an initiated attack if not a completed one, should be reported. If I lived in Belguim **AND** I had the authority he'd be on a dinner table. You do not want to be anywhere near an attacking horse, it can really mess up your life. While it is very often possible to fix the behavior it wouldn't be easy roaming in a public park.

Well, that’s it. I hope you have enjoyed the story, if nothing else. I’d gladly read any comments on the subject you might have.

Yours sincerely,

Glad you are well, thanks for writing.

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