Horses jumping for joy or jumping for fear?

As many of you know I have been collecting photos of horses with ‘all four feet off the ground.’ Which, by the Paint horse jumping highway, has been a really fun project (thanks for sending them all).

I noticed under this photo the following comment: “That looks too high and a little fake. What would you have to do to make a horse jump like that?”

The comment got me thinking.

What makes horses jump higher: joy or fear? In this discussion I am talking about horses that are turned loose or maybe being lead…I am talking about horses spontaneously leaping.

I have seen more horses spring straight up in the air out of joy rather than out of fear.

In a fear situation more horses tend to crouch down or explode in a direction; more of a flight response. Jumping straight up is just silly. It is not useful for fighting either. Knowing this may be why these photos make me laugh. They do look a bit like horse balloons!

Take a look at the series of photos I took of a particularly fresh young stallion that I turned out one day. The jump makes more sense when you see the rest of the series.

Horse springing like a cat!

Horse springing like a cat!

Horse preparing for a huge buck.
Horse preparing for a huge buck.

Horse frozen in time during  a play jump straight up.

Horse frozen in time during a play jump straight up.

Horse looking all innocent after playing hard.

Horse looking all innocent after playing hard.


  1. Isabella on February 25, 2024 at 8:59 pm

    Never had a horse😭

  2. julia mayo on September 9, 2014 at 7:24 am

    thats so cool! i ride horses, very playful horses, and they jump like that all the time! i think its really cool!

  3. johanna on February 26, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    i guess horses aren’t the only herd animals that ‘jump off all4’s for joy’ !! 🙂
    check out this cow video from England:

  4. Monica Huettl on January 26, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    My OTTB jumps straight up in the air, sometimes while I’m riding. It’s always a leap of joy. My QH likes to spin and give one giant buck when he’s pretending to be scared.

  5. Lisa on January 24, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    There is a definite difference between my horse “jumping for joy” and jumping straight up in the air due to being startled… if he is really afraid he, of course, runs… I’m just happy that he isn’t running into me when he is startled… I’ll take jumping straight in the air. 🙂

  6. Mona Rai on January 24, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    My Rosie does this in liberty and also on the end of a leadrope and she is a happy girl .. so most definately joy !!! 🙂

  7. yvonne on January 24, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    My very first horse was a thoroughbred. He was 26 when I got him and had been very abused. He was on a lot of suppliments and I found I was doubling one of them which gave him a lot of energy lol and he would do this all the time. One day he was standing in my front yard eating grass and with no warning went straight up 5 ft into the air, then a full run 3 times around my house, stopped right where he was eating and lay down to roll. He then got up and started eating again as if nothing had happened. I have to say he was just playing and having fun.

  8. Donna Smith on January 24, 2014 at 9:40 am

    Welcome to my silly horse world!

  9. Rapunzel on January 24, 2014 at 9:29 am

    Honnestly: My mare unfortunately sometimes does very high Caprioles out of fear. For example last sunday I went for a walk with her in the fields. She and her friend were on a lead each with their owners. We met another pony and suddenly both of our horses seemed to think that from the direction the pony was coming from there must be some monsters, tigers or whatever hiding. So they freaked out. My mares friend took a run and her owner had to let go the lead as he is very strong. My mare is very fine and does´t want to have pressure anywhere so she decided to stay with me but wanted to run away at the same time, so she is doing dangerous jumps above the air one after another. For the human that´s not so much fun and as my mare seemed to be frightened I think for her these jumps were´t fun either…

  10. Karissa Wingate on January 24, 2014 at 9:29 am

    Jumping, despite human stereotypes about it, (think the woman jumping on a chair for fear of a mouse) is not a particularly effective way to escape or defend one’s self from something.

    I think theses are definitely pictures or horses jumping for joy.

  11. Ashley McCleary on January 24, 2014 at 7:15 am

    I agree with you on this one stacy… I think horses are the best at anticipating things and depending on the situations these horses are in, fear tends to cause them to escape in the first direction that comes to them (generally away from whatever startled them) however even if they were assuming whatever was next albeit fearful or joyful “anything” could trigger the conscious excitement it takes to get them the exert super energies… And I think being predators it makes it harder for us to completely understand what it is that truly goes through our prey animal’s mind before they act on it…. seems irrational to us, but to them… a perfectly natural reaction to whatever emotion went through their mind at the time! However, I honestly think to gain the miraculous heights we have seen horses reach I believe it comes from JOY and/or Excitement or anticipation of Play! And ^^Joy^^ can be more powerful stimulant then fear >>>>!

  12. Liseanne R on January 24, 2014 at 6:40 am

    Fear and joy get mixed up so often in the horse world. One question I get asked a lot is when a horse is relaxed and they have one hoof resting my students and clients as well as family have asked “Are they prepping for a kick!!!” Makes me laugh everytime!

    • Dexter Burt on January 24, 2014 at 9:22 am

      I get that one too! My answer is “Nah he’s just chillaxing!!!”

  13. Holly on January 24, 2014 at 5:37 am

    I wish I could catch my buckskin mare doing her antics on film, she loves to jump off the ground with all four at the same time and then buck. It’s a sight to see, and I know it’s because she is feeling good. Very athletic too, wouldn’t want to be aboard when she does it though. Yes that stallion is knock dead gorgeous.

  14. Debbe L'Angelle on January 24, 2014 at 3:46 am

    I recently watched a Lippazon Stallion documentary called The White Stallions on PBS and their very best trick is to jump with all fours off the ground. All the tricks they teach them are actual things that the horses naturally do in the wild, which I thought was very cool. So, I think it could very well be both and their gut reaction in particular situations. It would seem that they are expressing themselves quite adamantly, either way! That film was awesome and only cost $19.99, very informative, generally.

    • Stacy on January 24, 2014 at 9:10 am

      I think you are speaking of the ‘airs above the ground’ airs above the ground

      • Ginger Heath on January 24, 2014 at 4:59 pm

        These horses are trained to jump like this in a performance. I just watched a show last week about them. All the foals are born black and by the age of. 2 they are turning white. Amazing

    • Lisa on January 24, 2014 at 3:21 pm

      Debbe… I saw the same documentary… it was wonderful ~

  15. johanna on January 24, 2014 at 2:34 am

    that sure is a good-looking stallion..

  16. Arlyn LaBair on January 24, 2014 at 2:09 am

    I’ve seen foals jump straight up in play just like kittens!

  17. Janette on January 24, 2014 at 1:47 am

    Lol. Looks like the horse in the top pic is just desensitizing is human buddy. Up down, up down, then hop on.

    I wouldn’t want to turn my back to that horse.

  18. Bonnie on January 24, 2014 at 1:03 am

    These horses look like they are jumping for joy, but I have one who, when she was a 4 year old, did this as a form of resistance to a step in her ground driving training.. We were training her to drive and had her in harness, and I was walking at her head, while the trainer was ground driving her. She was a power walker and we determined that I was too slow for her, as I had a cast on my foot. The trainer continued to drive her without problem. She became a nice driving horse, as well as a rider. but at 12yrs, she still likes to get all 4 off the ground when turned out fresh..

  19. Ellen Johnson on January 23, 2014 at 11:54 pm

    I’ve had a few jump for fun and once the horse was pissed off because I wouldn’t let him crowd me. 32 years old and I gave him an elbow to the shoulder, all the sudden I was holding onto a “horse kite”. Coco did a beautiful capriole, fronts tucked and hinds kicking out. Landed and we just continued walking back to the barn.

  20. Kailey on January 23, 2014 at 11:26 pm

    I couldn’t believe the first photo!! I have a 2 year old black and white paint that looks very much like that horse. We just moved to a new barn last week and the first time in the new arena with another horse, she jumped EXACTLY like that. Let me tell you YES they can jump 5 feet straight up!!

  21. Lindsay on January 23, 2014 at 11:16 pm

    Definitely joy, I had a young horse with sore bones,(big head without actually having big head) I had the vet check him out.and adjusted his supplements. A couple of months later I didn’t recognise him, all four feet high off the ground, with an elegant buck, mid air- woohoooo.

  22. Misty Ray on January 23, 2014 at 11:14 pm

    One day we were out riding and there was a huge slider turtle as we turned onto the path so I carefully maneuvered my mares feet to avoid stepping on it which placed her right above the turtle, at that moment my mare popped straight up in the air about 2 feet, I pulled a one rein stop creating a 180 degree spin in mid air. I did stay on and was amused by the laughing of my riding buddies and asked why they were laughing so hard because she popped straight up and that is when they informed me the TURTLE popped straight up about a foot causing her reaction …. I never in my life heard of turtles popping up in the air like that; too bad we didn’t have a helmet cam filming the incident! So I don’t know was my mare playing with the jumping turtle? lol

  23. Lisa McDonald on January 23, 2014 at 10:49 pm

    There is one photo I’ve seen of a horse that jumped straight up in the air when a small wave hit his feet at the beech. He actually doesn’t look all that happy, unlike these horses.

    • Stacy on January 23, 2014 at 11:36 pm

      Good call! I know that photo. You are correct there…he was trying to actually remove himself from the ocean.Ocean jumping horse

      Although if we saw the whole replay I bet he was in the ‘flee’ category I spoke of…just with a jump too as he was ‘fleeing’ from the foot eating ocean monster!

      • johanna on January 24, 2014 at 2:34 am

        my bull and terrier dog did EXACTLY the same thing when first introduced to the ocean!

      • Dexter Burt on January 24, 2014 at 9:25 am

        How about the “Spider Picture” that’s been floating around. I believe that is from the Russian trainer Alexander Nevzorev…(Hope I spelled that right!!)

  24. Heidi on January 23, 2014 at 10:23 pm

    That’s pure JOY because he’s fresh n getting silly and also for how stinkin dang gorgeous the Lord made him!

  25. melody on January 23, 2014 at 10:21 pm

    I agree with you. Joy is playful, happy time. Fear is get the heck outta here NOW!

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