What to think when you hear the howl
The short answer is that you should be aware, not necessarily concerned. You may have heard stories about coyotes attacking horses but aren’t sure whether or not they’re true. After all, how could an animal that weighs less than 50 pounds be a threat to an animal weighing 800-1,200 pounds?
Although highly unlikely, coyotes have been known to prey on horses. Keep reading to learn what you need to know about keeping your horse safe from this common animal.
Predator and Prey Animals
The relationship between predator and prey is as old as time. Predators, such as wolves and lions, hunt prey animals to survive. And prey animals, such as zebras and deer, also need predators to keep their populations healthy.
Predators keep prey animal populations down to a point where the environment can support them. Since predators hunt animals they can actually catch, they often cull the old or sick prey animals.
Both predators and prey animals are necessary for a thriving ecosystem. Each has adapted over time to either hunt effectively or to avoid detection by predators.
Horses – An Overview
As prey animals, horses have developed certain instincts and habits to avoid being attacked by predators.
As anyone with a spooky horse will tell you, a horse’s fight or flight response is intense!
One particular adaptation horses have developed is the ability to survive on very little deep sleep per day. This means that most of their sleep time is spent standing up, a position that enables them to respond almost instantly to a potential threat.
Horses in North America face several natural predators, including wolves, bears, mountain lions, and coyotes. Depending upon the area of the United States, alligators can also take down a horse.
Will horses scare off coyotes?
The mere presence of horses is not enough to deter coyotes from coming on your property, especially if other factors are attracting the coyotes.
Since horses have a strongly developed “flight” response to predators, fleeing is typically their first instinct when encountering coyotes or other predatory animals. But if cornered, a horse will kick out or attempt to bite its attacker.
Coyotes – An Overview
Coyotes are intelligent and resilient animals that originated in the Southwestern corner of the United States.
Thanks to their adaptability, coyotes have gradually spread throughout the entire country.
Today coyotes can be found in rural as well as urban areas. It’s not uncommon to even occasionally see a coyote in Central Park in the middle of New York City!
As omnivores, coyotes eat a wide and varied diet. Coyotes will both hunt and scavenge for their meals. They hunt rodents, frogs, and even deer. They will also dine on fruit, grass, carrion, and garbage.
Do coyotes hunt horses?
If the opportunity is right, coyotes could potentially hunt horses. During the winter months, coyotes will often form packs.
Taking down a horse is a great deal of work for a coyote, so an attack from a pack would be more likely than from a single coyote.
Domesticated horses are at somewhat of a disadvantage compared to wild horses when it comes to attacks because they are confined.
Out on the open prairie, a healthy horse can outrun coyotes. In captivity, horses are more easily cornered by fencing. And if the horse is small, sick, or lame, it’s also at greater risk of attack by coyotes.
How big of an animal will a coyote attack?
Coyotes typically stick to smaller animals such as mice up to lambs. If the circumstances are right, however, they might attack animals as large as a deer or horse.
Will Coyotes Attack Horses?
Yes, but…. The risk for an attack is higher (but still low) if the coyote is part of a larger pack. Horses that are either very young, sick, or older are also at higher risk for an attack, as are horses that are lame or smaller in size, such as miniature horses or ponies.
Generally speaking, even a pack of coyotes would not attack a healthy horse.
How do I protect my horse from coyotes?
One of the best ways to protect your horse from coyotes is to remain alert for signs of their presence. Coyotes typically are most active during dusk and dawn. These are the best times to see or hear them. And they do their hunting at night, which makes detection somewhat more challenging.
If you see coyotes on your property, always attempt to scare them away. Coyotes are afraid of loud noises and large animals, so make yourself look as big as possible while yelling and screaming.
Avoid keeping brush piles and keep all grassy areas mowed to discourage coyotes from building dens on your property.
Never feed coyotes! Doing so encourages them to stick around. And make sure your garbage is wildlife-proof and inaccessible to them.
Ranchers often use guard dogs (or other guardian livestock) to protect their livestock from coyotes in the plains and mountains. You could also consider fencing your property at least 6 feet high.
Adding a Coyote Roller to the top of the fence makes jumping the fence impossible for coyotes.
Unfortunately, coyotes are also expert diggers, so you will need at least 18” of buried apron underneath the fence.
You could also consider adding strobe lights and sirens that go off at different times of the night to further discourage coyotes from hanging around your property (but this could spook your horses, and neighbors!)
Several smell deterrents are also available, including homemade concoctions of peppers, ammonia, and cayenne pepper, as well as commercial products. The downside to this type of deterrent is that it must be applied regularly and frequently.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Will coyotes go into a barn?
Yes. It’s therefore essential to avoid keeping anything in the barn that would attract coyotes, such as garbage, pet bowls, and even bird seed.
Keep your barn doors closed when unattended, and trim any brush around your property to discourage coyotes from building dens.
Q: What animal would attack a horse?
Bears, mountain lions (also known as cougars), alligators, wolves, and coyotes could attack a horse if given the opportunity. An aggressive dog could also pose a threat to a horse.
Q: Will donkeys scare off coyotes?
Yes. Over time, horses have used speed to avoid capture by predators. But, being smaller and slower, donkeys had to rely on other skills, like aggression, to survive. You can see donkeys used as guard animals against coyotes and different types of predators. Llamas are another popular guard animal used out West to protect sheep herds from coyotes.
Although it can be fascinating to see wildlife, including coyotes, up close, it’s not something that should ever be encouraged.
Coyotes can pose a serious risk to domesticated animals, including small dogs, cats, poultry, and horses. They also carry illnesses, including rabies and mange, that can be transmitted via bites or close contact.
If you are struggling with coyote presence on your property, follow the suggestions herein and contact your local Department of Natural Resource office for further guidance.
P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to:
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Predator-Prey Relationships — New England Complex Systems Institute (necsi.edu)
Wildlife Encounters: Adaptations – Predator vs. Prey (illinois.edu)
Do horses sleep standing up? Or do they prefer to lay down… (horseandhound.co.uk)
What Animals Attack Horses? 8 Predators (With Pictures) | Pet Keen