Walking around a friend’s property recently, I was fascinated by a small family of what I imagine were field mice of some kind that had built a nest in some dense underbrush. After forty minutes or so, I asked my friend if they posed any sort of problem for her three horses due to the nest’s proximity to her stables. Were the horses scared of them, perhaps?
There is no evidence that horses are afraid of mice. Horses are well known to share their stalls with a family of mice without the horse batting a – very long – eyelash. Horses are not afraid of mice, though they have been known to shy away from the rodents, but usually only when startled.
Perhaps it’s just a case of us seeing nature at her finest, where mice and horses can coexist without hostility, but since neither are natural hunters, it’s hardly surprising. They share accommodation and can have a symbiotic relationship where one or both contribute to the well-being of the other.
The Relationship Between Horses And Mice
Mice will sometimes nibble the tails and manes of their sleeping landlords and use the hair they break off to line their nests in cold weather and when expecting babies. In return, the family patrols the horsebox or stall, keeping it free of cockroaches, crickets, centipedes, and other potentially troublesome insects.
Provided a horse sees a mouse in time to assess what it is, there is no flight or fight decision to be made. The mouse gets to go about its business without any interference from the equine, and your outride is undisturbed. Sometimes, the mouse is oblivious of the horse for some reason and jumps and squeaks in fright when it sees this giant scary creature almost on top of it.
The horse may well shy away and bolt, but this is instinctive to sudden movement or sound, ( no mitigating factor if you are tossed off in the process.) Consider the human reaction to spiders for a moment: They are much smaller than us (though they grow huge in the retelling!) and yet can cause unadulterated terror.
Seeing a spider at a reasonable distance is one thing, but to many people, the sight of a spider suddenly running up their arm is a cause for total panic, and it’s ‘flight flight flight’ all the way. Even if a spider holds no fear for you, the reaction is to flick it off instantly. A horse might run a little further than you do, but it will calm quickly, and then, clearly embarrassed, it acts as if the incident never happened.
If Not Mice, What Do Horses Fear?
Not very much. Horses have been domesticated over thousands of years and, with their speed, size, and herd mentality, have always been able to hold their own against prevailing dangers. The only real fear they have ever had, as a species, is that of predation, and that instinct is still with them
Predators That Will Attack Horses
With their speed and size, horses have never been low on the food chain, and since they don’t have to outrun the predator but only outrun slower prey animals, they have a more than reasonable record against predation. This is vital because they seldom exercise the fight instinct if startled or scared, resorting almost exclusively to flight.
Many horses are in urban settings now, but there are still herds running wild, and others on farms, homesteads, and in remote rural areas where predation by big cats and others is a constant possibility. If slower animals like sheep, goats, and cattle are nearby, horses might well get a pass, but if their day has come, these are the probable culprits:
These efficient killing machines have been around for eons, and the pack mentality of hunting in a cohesive group makes them dangerous to all other animals. If they can isolate an animal, then regardless of its size, they can bring it down, and from there, it’s all over.
Wolves can lope at a steady pace for hours, and while a horse is far quicker initially, once fatigue sets in, the wolves – who seldom hunt alone – become the firm favorite. These are highly intelligent predators and can get very close to their prey before being detected, by which time it is often too late for the target.
Mountain Lions – aka Cougars, Panthers, Pumas, and more.
All the above names apply to the same tawny above, whitish below, 90-160 lb. animal native to the Americas. Able to sprint at high speeds, the Mountain Lion can take down horses on the run but generally uses stealth and cunning to stalk its prey before making the final lunge.
Grizzly Bears: The last animal you want to encounter as you step out of your tent on a camping trip, this colossal animal can also pose a genuine threat to horses. Not generally a predator of horses, grizzlies have, however, been known to attack and kill horses very swiftly, often when the bear has cubs in the vicinity.
One swipe of that enormous paw can break a horse’s spine or crush its skull, so exercise caution on outrides if grizzlies are in the area. Despite their incredible size – females grow to 800 lbs/360kg and males to double that – a charging grizzly bear moves quickly, smashing everything in its path, and can catch rider and horse unaware.
Not a predator one might expect to pose a real danger to horses; alligators have no trouble taking down a horse as it lowers its head to drink. Limited to certain parts of Florida for the most part, this danger is easily avoided once the threat is known.
What Perceived Dangers Do Horses Face Daily?
- Plastic Bags – These terrifying objects can fly, as well as roll about on the ground at the horse’s feet, and once plastic bags sit in branches, they make flapping noises as they try to escape. What horse can withstand that onslaught?
- Velcro is a great invention, but scary as heck when ripped apart within a horse’s earshot.
- Umbrellas – Popping an umbrella open near a horse when the drizzle starts is enough to unseat most riders. Do not test this on your siblings!
- New Equipment – Sure, that new tank or section of paving looks great to you, but your horse may not be so easily convinced. Who knows what manner of evil lies inside or beneath it?
- Butterflies – This is a well-known harbinger of doom, and their kamikaze way of popping up next to a horse’s nose can be very unsettling – particularly for the rider.
Horses have no natural fear of mice and can live with them in perfect harmony, but mice can carry diseases that can harm your beloved horse, so exercise caution when he says they followed him home and can he keep them?