Dr. Emily Weiss (left), the ASPCA's horse behavior expert, stopped by to answer your great questions about why our hooved pals do the things they do.
Could you please tell me why horses stamp their hind feet?
When horses stamp their hind feet, it's usually to rid their legs of flies and other pesky bugs, Dorothy!
Do horses change when the seasons change? Do any animals eat horses?
Gracie, horses do grow thick, warm coats in the winter that they shed in the late spring. Like a lot of other mammals, horses also tend to put on weight as the weather goes from warm to cold.
And yes, there are animals who will hunt and eat horses. Here in the United States, wolves and cougars are potential predators, especially of very young or sick horses.
I just started horseback riding lessons. How do I know if the horse I'm riding trusts me?
Great question, Anna! You should observe his ears, his tail, and how he responds as you move on his back. His ears should be relaxed, his tail will not swish quickly back and forth―other than to get rid of flies―and he will remain relaxed and calm as you move your legs and body while on his back.
Why do horses spook with a rider on their back?
Horses are a prey species, Mairin. This means that in their natural environment, they need to always be alert and watch out for potential predators who intend to hunt them for food. Spooking―which is when a horse quickly darts away from something that frightens him―is a behavior that could save his life in his natural environment. Horses who know the right times to flee can get away from animals who want to eat them. So in the wild, spooking is a valuable survival skill. And since the horses who outsmart predators are the ones who live long enough to have babies, these skills are passed from generation to generation. You can decrease a horse's spooking by exposing him to lots of new things while he is relaxed and calm.
I have a very strong desire to learn how to ride a horse. How can I convince my parents that I am old and responsible enough?
Great question, Alicia! There are often opportunities for teens to assist at boarding facilities. You could help out with tasks like grooming, cleaning stalls and enrichment exercises to keep horses entertained. By showing your parents that you are committed enough to the hobby to spend your spare time working in the stables, you may be able to convince them you are both old enough and responsible enough to learn how to ride.
My horses are scared to death of the woods around their pasture. They both came from wooded areas. There are a few rabbits, but there had to have been rabbits where they came from, too. Why could they be so scared, and what could help them?
Hi, Cheyenne. It is difficult to know why your horses are so scared. It may be because there are sounds and smells that are unfamiliar to them, or it could be because the very first time they entered or approached the woods, something startled them and they have not yet recovered from the scare.
To help decrease their fear, you can provide enrichment opportunities near the wooded areas. Put a few treats inside some big plastic balls, or scatter small carrot pieces near the woods. You can even make them a nice scratching post by attaching the head of a straw push broom to a fence post. Encourage them to spend time having fun near the woods. If there is truly nothing "scary" in there, their fear should go away over time.
Is it cruel for the horse to do dressage And does the horse enjoy it?
Hi, Sara! We don't consider it cruel for horses to do dressage, or be ridden, as long as their needs are being met and no cruel practices are used in raising, training and keeping them―including when they get too old to ride. Actually, dressage is much easier on a horse's body than certain other activities, like working with cattle and grand prix jumping. Some horses enjoy dressage, and some do not! As with any other activity, horses are individuals, so they each have their own set of likes and dislikes.
Are there kinds of illnesses that make horses crazy?
Unfortunately, neurologic diseases―illnesses affecting the brain―can be common in horses, Carolina. The three leading causes of neurologic disease in horses are infections from bugs and parasites, rabies, and eating things they shouldn't be eating (like moldy grain or poisonous plants). A horse who is in pain might express it by acting "crazy," especially when he is being ridden. Any change in a horse's behavior should be checked out by your veterinarian, who can examine the horse's body and do some blood tests to discover what's going on.
Since we mentioned rabies, I want everyone to know that it's really important for all horses to get vaccinated against rabies every year. Rabies is a fatal disease that can be passed to horses from infected animals. It can be transmitted to people through the horse's saliva, even without an actual bite from the horse.
Of course, there are some strange horse behaviors that are caused by hormones, and even emotions! Horses who are very bonded to a stable buddy may act "crazy" when the other horse leaves the pasture or barn without them. And horses who are very bored from lack of exercise or pasture turn-out may develop stall "vices" such as weaving, rearing or cribbing. These can be hard to stop and can disrupt other horses in the barn.