Protect Your Horses from Predatory Wildlife

Protect Your Horses from Predatory Wildlife

If you see a predator--such as a mountain lion, wolf, bear, other wildlife, or even a dog--bothering your horses, contact the state agency responsible for monitoring wildlife.


Bret Christensen is no stranger to wild animal attacks on horses. Two years ago the Lewiston, Idaho, man and his family lost a foal pastured with its dam and several other horses. Last year his mare, Dyna, was attacked by what Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) officials believe to be a cougar.

“It was apparent to us that the harm was caused by a lion, or a cougar,” said IDFG District Conservation Officer Mark Hill. He, another biologist, and a veterinarian determined the size and type of predator by evaluating the width between each claw mark on Dyna, who has since recovered from her shoulder and leg injuries.

Hill said that once a wildlife attack has occurred and the animal causing the damage has been identified, Fish & Game officials can issue a kill permit.

In other cases, said Keith Huffman, DVM, of Retama Equine Hospital near San Antonio, Texas, the offending “wildlife” is found to be a dog.

“We see two or three attacks a year, usually on Miniature Horses or foals,” he said, adding that most injuries he sees aren’t fatal. “We repair them as best we can and they go home to their owners.”

If You See or Suspect a Predator

Evin Oneale, regional conservation educator with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s Southwest Regional Office, says that your horse's behavior will probably be the first indicator of a predator threat; when predators are near, horses often display erratic actions. If you don’t see the predator, a little detective work might reveal tracks in the dust or mud that could help identify the animal involved.

At this point, Oneale recommends contacting the state agency responsible for monitoring wildlife. Each state has its own name for the agency Idaho calls the Department of Fish and Game, so searching the Internet for “(your state) wildlife services agency” can help you locate the proper officials.

In cases of wildlife threats, Fish and Game works hand in hand with the United States Wildlife Service, so a call to either agency should be your best first response. “We always like to be involved before a predator is actually shot,” said Oneale. “We may be able to provide help that may lead to a better solution.”

If an attack has already occurred, they will send out a team to determine what type of wildlife was involved. If not, they will recommend steps you can take to protect your horses and advise you of your legal rights, depending on your location (rural, where you might be permitted to shoot a predator vs. urban, where discharging a firearm might be illegal).

The agency's actions will be determined case by case; officials might opt to set traps or snares or use lethal means to remove the animal. And they'll generally consider the horse owner's wishes regarding whether the predator is killed.

Todd Grimm, of U.S. Wildlife Services in Ada County, Idaho, said that if the predator turns out to be a dog rather than a wild animal, his organization turns the case over to the local sheriff. Then, if the sheriff wants the department to remain involved, it will.

If you find that your predator is one or more dogs and you know who the owner is, Oneale recommends informing the owner of the problem and asking them to restrict the dog(s) to their property before you contact a county or state agency. Most times, he says, dog owners want to be good neighbors and don’t want to be responsible for any legal action that could result from their dogs’ actions. Also, call your local law enforcement agency to document the problem and provide persuasive backup if needed.

Preventing Attacks

So how can you prevent attacks on your horses? Here are a few tips from Huffman and other sources that might help.

  • If possible, stall your horses safely in a barn at night.
  • Barking dogs can alert you of disturbances and keep predators at bay.
  • Likewise, the noise from a radio or other device can keep wildlife away.
  • Install floodlights that allow you to see the barnyard and monitor any unwelcome visitors. Lights tripped by motion detectors might help scare off wildlife.
  • Install sound monitors and/or cameras near pens and corrals so you can hear and/or see if your horses are uneasy.
  • Bear spray (which shoots a cloud rather than the stream that personal-use pepper spray emits) can help deter bears, cougars, wolves, coyotes, and dogs you might encounter on the trail or on your property. When spraying, though, be aware of wind direction so you don’t end up disabling yourself or your horse. Personal-use sprays require extreme accuracy at close range, so are less desirable.

Keep in mind that dogs are more used to the lights and sounds of humans, so they’re more difficult to deter.

Take-Home Message

We all want to enjoy our horses and keep them safe from any harm. Knowing what to do if you see or suspect threats from wildlife could make a difference in your horse’s safety, or even his survival.

About the Author

Diane E. Rice

Diane E. Rice earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism from the University of Wisconsin, then melded her education and her lifelong passion for horses in an editorial position at Appaloosa Journal. She currently works as a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and photographer and has served on American Horse Publications’ board of directors. Rice spends her spare time gardening, reading, serving in her church, and with her daughters, grandchildren, and pets.

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