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Do Horses Like Wooded Areas?

Horses lived and survived in wooded areas for thousands of years. Trees provide shade but can also have several drawbacks. Have you ever wondered if horses like living in wooded areas and if it is a safe environment? Let’s find out!

Horses can live in a wooded area, but usually, there is less grass growing in the woods. Horses would need supplemental feed. Generally, trees that grow in pastures where horses are kept pose no risks. However, some trees can cause toxicity and injuries to the horses from fallen branches.

Some horses live in wooded areas, but generally, forested areas are problematic for horses for several reasons. If you plan to keep your horses in a wooded area, here is all the information you need to keep your horses safe and happy. Read on to find out what they are.

Can Horses Live in Wooded Areas, and Do They Like It?

Some horses live in wooded areas, but generally, horses are designed to live in wide-open spaces, only seeking shelter to escape the weather in wooded areas.

Horses can live in wooded areas, but it is not ideal for them; however, there are several things you can do to make it safe for them. The benefit of a wooded area is that it offers plenty of shade; however, some factors can affect a horse’s well-being in a wooded area, making it not very ideal.

Usually, there is not much pasture growing in wooded areas because grass doesn’t grow well in the shade. For horses to live in wooded areas, you need to supplement their diet with additional grain or hay.

Wooded areas don’t offer enough grass for the horses to survive on. Horses can live there for a short time, but their health and growth will be affected if they do not have a nutrient-rich diet.

Keeping horses in a wooded lot requires constant maintenance to remove fallen branches and dead wood that can injure horses.

When horses are kept in a wooded area, they could be exposed to toxic trees and plants, and horses can damage the trees by chewing the bark causing the trees to die.

Predators have plenty of places to hide in the woods. Horses are more nervous when they can’t see what lurks behind a tree. Feral dogs and other predators can jump out from behind trees and pose risks to horses living in wooded areas.

Horses are prey animals, and even though the woods offer plenty of space to hide, tangled bushes and overhanging tree branches can be hazardous and cause severe injuries to a panicked horse trying to escape from a predator.

The other problem with woodland horses is the environmental damage they cause by killing off brush, grass, and trees. This is one reason why the U.S. Bureau of Land Management spends a lot of resources to reduce wild horse populations each year. 

Horses Can’t See and Hear Well in Wooded Areas

Horses have a prey-animal vision; a horse’s eyes are on either side of their head, giving them relatively poor straight-ahead vision but an excellent wide-field vision to locate predators.

The dense woods prevent the wide-field view and complicate things with the dappled light and changing patterns. This makes horses more nervous about what might be jumping out of the woods.

Horses can become extra-defensive and start kicking out when approached from behind or the side because of not seeing who approaches them.

A horses’ eyesight and sense of hearing are not as good as its sense of smell. There are too many things in a horse’s field of vision in the woods that need to be sorted into unsafe and safe categories. They don’t like living in a wooded area because it obstructs their clear field of vision.

When trees are growing closely together in the woods, they muffle sounds, making it hard for horses to determine the direction from which the sounds are coming. Horses also struggle with their sense of smell in the woods because there are so many smells emanating from the forest floor it can be hard for them to figure it out.

Horses like and prefer the open grasslands rather than wooded areas. On the grass plains, they can use their binocular and monocular vision to see what is in the area from a distance. 

Horses Can’t Move Well in Wooded Areas

Horses don’t like wooded areas because they want to be able to run away quickly when a predator threatens them. Wooded areas prevent horses from escaping quickly.

Horses graze many miles a day, and their head-down position is crucial to their digestion, just like the constant movement is to their muscles and joints. Wooded areas are not ideal for grazing and easy movement.

Horses can live in almost any area, provided they have access to food and water. Typically, horses prefer to live in open grass plains and prairies. Horses live in herds and naturally want to move around together; wooded areas make that difficult. Horses like to graze out in the open, where they can clearly observe the area around them.

Horses living in wooded areas suffer from uncontrolled hoof growth due to there not being hard rocky ground to wear their hooves down naturally.

Living in A Wooded Area Can Be Dangerous to Horses

Some tree species are known for having weak wood that can easily break off and drop on a horse, causing an injury. Trees can injure horses by puncturing them and causing abrasions and cuts when they run past them trying to escape.

A well-known phenomenon is known as Sudden Summer Branch Drop, where a healthy older tree suddenly drops a large limb during normal conditions.

This typically happens with sweet chestnut, oak, ash, beech, elm, horse chestnut, willow, sycamore, and elm trees.

The cause of this phenomenon is unclear, but a tree that lost a branch is likely to do so again. If your horses live in a wooded area, it is advised to have bigger trees pruned and inspected and pruned regularly. Also, rot diseases can cause branches to drop, making a wooded area unsafe for horses.

Horses Are More Nervous in Wooded Areas

Horses are tenser and spookier than usual living in the woods because they react to the surroundings. Horses typically spook at several things, and wooded areas offer many things to spook at, like a bush, branches on the ground, or a rock formation, an animal scurrying away, the objects a horse could spook at in a wooded area are endless. 

When horses spook, they use the reactive side of their brains; their primary concerns are running away as fast as possible. When a horse is in a wooded area with no open space to run, it could result in injuries or broken limbs when trying to escape his fear. Horses will feel more stressed and anxious if they must constantly live in fear of what might be coming out from the woods.

Like humans, horses are individuals and can respond to stress in several ways. Living in a stressful environment can have a prolonged effect on a horse and negatively affect a horse’s health.

The unfamiliar surroundings, movements, and noises of a wooded area can be difficult for horses to process. When horses are not used to a wooded area, it can cause stress for your horses.

Prolonged stress in horses can cause behavioral changes and some issues like;

  • Gastric ulcers
  • Colic
  • New behaviors like biting, spooking, bucking, pawing, rearing, or pawing 
  • Weakened immune systems
  • Repetitive erratic behavior
  • Weight loss
  • Behavioral issues 

When horses have access to tree trunks in wooded areas, they will chew on the bark and damage the tree. When the bark of a tree is removed in a circle around the trunk, it is called girdling, and it will cause the tree to die quickly.

To stop horses from girdling trees, separate the tree from the horses with a fence around the trunk so that the horses cannot get to the bark.

Horses cause erosion in wooded areas because they like to create trails and follow each other around. Horses like to use the same trails, which can cause the grass to die on the trails. When heavy rainfall occurs, it can create erosion on the trails.

It is good to strategically place fences in the wooded area to minimize erosion and stop horses from creating routine trails in wooded areas.

Trees Toxic to Horses Found in Wooded Areas

In addition to falling branches, tree limbs, and rotten trees, the other danger to horses is poisonous trees and plants found in wooded areas.

Many toxic trees are harmful to horses, and you should make sure none of them grows in your wooded areas.

Some trees and plants have different toxicity levels depending on the species, and some can be more toxic than others.

  • Acorns
  • American persimmon
  • Black Locust 
  • Black Walnut
  • Buttercups 
  • Cherry Trees 
  • Cherry Laurel   
  • Chinaberry tree
  • Crab apple tree
  • Deadly Nightshade
  • Foxglove       
  • Ragwort
  • Golden chain tree
  • Horse Chestnut Trees 
  • Kentucky coffee tree
  • Maple Trees 
  • Mesquite
  • Oak Trees
  • Oleander 
  • Peach Trees 
  • Plum Trees 
  • Privet 
  • Rhododendron
  • Russian Olive Trees 
  • Sycamore Trees
  • Tung nut tree
  • Yew

If any of these plants and trees grow in your wooded area, you should remove them immediately to protect your horse. Poisonous trees and plants kill many horses. Always check the area thoroughly where you plan to keep your horses. 

There are many more ornamental plants and trees that are toxic. Make sure you do your research thoroughly before letting your horses live in a wooded area.

The clinical signs of toxicity in horses include lack of appetite, lethargy, colic, respiratory issues, neurological dysfunction, elevated breathing, and heart rate with lack of coordination.

When your horse lives in a wooded area, it is always recommended to check on him daily to evaluate his health and lookout for signs of poisoning. Call your veterinarian directly if you suspect your horse has eaten a poisonous tree or plant.

Boxelder, Chokecherry, and Red Maple trees have poisonous seeds to horses. A horse could easily eat them when it falls on the ground in a wooded area.

If any poisonous plants or trees have been identified in your area, you should remove them immediately, and once they are removed, burn them directly to prevent your horses from reaching them.


There are many reasons why horses don’t like wooded areas. They can’t see and hear well in a wooded area. Horses are prey animals and need to rely on their instincts to stay safe when they can’t see or hear well; their survival instincts are affected. Wooded areas obstruct movement and prevent horses from getting away quickly when danger comes calling.

Wild dogs and other predators have many hiding places in the woods and could easily scare or injure a horse. A panicked horse that can’t get away fast enough is at risk of injuring himself.

Then there is the risk of toxic plants and trees that makes a wooded area dangerous for horses. Many horses are killed each year by accidental poisoning when they eat seeds and leaves fallen from toxic trees.

Horses don’t like wooded areas because they can get injured from falling tree branches. Many horse owners successfully keep horses in wooded areas, but they supplement their horse’s diet with additional hay and grain and regularly rotate them to open pastures. It is important to keep a watchful eye on horses that live in wooded areas to keep them safe.

Typically, horses prefer to live in open grasslands with lots of space to move around freely with unobstructed views. If you don’t have open grasslands for your horse, keep in mind all the points we mentioned in this article and make your wooded area safe for your horse.

If your wooded area has trees and you are unsure of the species, contact your local county conservation office to help you identify the trees.


Anrie Diedericks

I've been around horses since I was 6 years old and started competing at the age of 9. Horses are my greatest passion and I am thrilled to be able to share my 23 (and counting) years of experience and knowledge with you.

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